Helping…ish?

Goddamnit. I would think that in the 3 weeks I’ve been going to therapy half as frequently, I’d be writing here constantly because I’m filled to spilling with all the feelings and my tendency is to want to articulate them, but I’ve been busy as fuck with the goddamn sky falling this past week, and even though I know it’d be therapeutic to hammer out a post, I’ve mostly been hanging out with my favorite guitar (its name is Calvin. For 3 separate reasons).

But the sky is most certainly falling. My uncle-in-law died ahead of schedule (he was given 6-12 weeks and only made it 2) so almost nobody got to visit him and say goodbye, the thought of which make me sick to my stomach with regret because when someone’s dying that fast, like, don’t fucking tarry. Just make room and go. Lesson uncomfortably learnt. So This past Thursday was the wake and Friday was the funeral. Both events lasted most of the day. My husband and I each brought a flask of whiskey to the funeral. This is not something I’m accustomed to doing, but it is something I did do and getting buzzed in a cemetery on the most beautiful spring day that ever happened anywhere was moderately surreal and probably not the classiest thing I’ve ever done. But funerals are hard. And I kept my shit together, so whatever.

The sky is falling on Colorado too, in case that’s of interest to you. My sister has strep and her roommate brought home bedbugs and 2 nights ago, some drunk strangers her other roommate brought home almost broke Big Sis’ new couch by fucking super loud and hard on it within earshot of the entire house. Like, what the hell is wrong with you? Go screw in the bathroom like a normal person. Idiots.

But the most disconcerting was the 50 minute phone call I had with my stressed-to-the-breaking-point mom last Wednesday. I called her ’cause I needed someone’s address and it should’ve been a 3 minute call, but ballooned into this…thing. This thing that required me to avoid being an asshole to my mom which can be a genuine challenge because sometimes she just plain invites it. My grandparents are doing very poorly and my mom is shouldering way too much of the work needed to keep them comfortable and not dead. She’s been sleeping like 2 hours a night, dealing with my grandpa’s dementia, my grandma’s failing kidneys, the horrible pain resulting from my grandma’s failing kidneys and – between the two of them – this ancient, stubborn Sicilian couple who refuse, out of pride, to consider dialysis and/or a night nurse.

My mom very obviously needed to unload so I let her talk, and when she started talking, she started crying and it was really evident by the tone of her voice that she’s basically a raw nerve at this point. So I let her talk some more and mostly just listened. Like many people in crisis do, she shot down most of my suggestions as logistically impossible. I don’t know why people sometimes react this way. I think when you’re that shot you need something to lean against and, in some cases, you end up leaning against your last shred of control by way of an exasperated argument angled at whoever might be trying to help you. I think if she deemed any of my ideas doable, my mom would internalize them as an indicator that, despite working herself down to the marrow, she could have been doing it better. The mind recoils.

But in all the years I’ve been in therapy, I’ve learned that being heard is more important than almost anything, so I tried to keep my mouth shut. Which is another thing I’m not accustomed to doing, but hey, week of firsts. When she was out of things to say and things to cry about, my mom told me she felt better. I done good. Like not even by accident. I mean, the phone call was happenstance, but everything else was me acting like a decent human being to this person who has the peerless ability to topple my wellness in a fell fucking swoop. I was nice to my mom and it was weird.

So there’s a part of me that’s deeply resentful for the things that happened re: my mom in the weeks and months after my dad’s death. I moved home temporarily to take care of her (nobody actually ever asked me to do that, the whole family just assumed I would). I guess my dad would’ve appreciated it. But losing my dad the way I did was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to me. I say “arguably” because there are some super unfortunate contenders for that #1 spot, but, in terms of flashbang tragedy, Dad’s sudden and untimely death left me like…concussed…in the soul. Is that a thing? It sure felt like one. The summer after he died was hard as fuck. My mom regressed into this awful, helpless state which left her 100% unable to support me emotionally. The whole summer she kept asking me why this horrible thing was happening to our family. I didn’t know. Nobody that close to me had ever died before. I was a grief neophyte. She never asked me how I was doing or if I was Ok or if I needed to talk. She did cry a lot and refuse to eat, fucking up her blood sugar so that I’d find her passed out on the floor occasionally. Dunno if you’ve ever tried to lift a person who’s gone completely slack but it’s not very easy. It’s pretty hard to tell what the worst part of that summer was, but a candidate might be the limited symptom panic attacks I was having. I’d be sitting in the class I was taking or just listening to music or bumming around and my heart would start to race and pound and I’d get really nervous. My dad died of a heart attack so the shit my heart was doing as a response to bereavement and shock was twisted into firm evidence that I was next on the list and that I was, at all times, one misstep away from a heart attack of my own. I got kinda into morphine that summer, which probably didn’t help things. Good stuff.

Anyway, after a while I got so angry with my mom’s behavior that I stopped talking to her for 8 months, 5 of which I spent in Rome, so that made it a lot easier to avoid her. I got SO much shit from my family for cutting off my mom. To this day I still think that 8 month cold shoulder was justified. In the years since then, she’s been many flavors of difficult and frustrating. I’ve spent way more time in therapy talking about my mom than my dad – Dad being the reason I sought help to begin with. So being a shoulder for my mom to cry on last Wednesday felt a little like a betrayal to myself. That’s kinda fucked up. It also goes against everything I believe in about treating other people sympathetically, but I frequently jettison my integrity on that point when I deal with my mom. Cognitive dissonance, man. (Cognitive Dissonance Man would be the worst superhero. Or the best. I can’t really decide.)

But she really needed someone to talk to. She really needs some sleep. I’m not a monster. I’m also not a martyr, but I’d like to think, at this point in my life, I can actually refrain from being a dick to my mom even if it’s sort of my natural state. So I think she’s a little better now. I’d call to check in, but that just feels weird to me. This isn’t a vengeance thing. If one person in my family is suffering, we all suffer. My mom will, quite likely, be losing one or both of her parents soon. She wasn’t there for me when I lost one of mine. There’s a juvenile part of me that wants her to know how that feels, but to what end, really? Forgiveness is hard, but the discomfort is likely temporary. Regret, on the other hand, never really goes away. And anyway, isn’t it technically a win for me if I manage to be compassionate here? Or, at the very least, reassurance that I didn’t grow up to be my mom? There. I think I made it palatable for myself.

-LB

Tagged: anxiety, compassion, dad, death, drugs, family, grief, mommy issues, moral support, panic attack, stress, therapy

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