Growing up, I always thought I had an incredibly dysfunctional family. And, by my own definition I did. I had a BFF in middle school and just loved her parents. The way they interacted with their children. The way they hugged them and gushed about how much my friend was loved. Their soft compassionate demeanor towards me. EVERTHING. I wanted to be their daughter.
My folks were distant, emotionally detached. Quick to punish and spank with anything handy…belt, wooden spoon, fly swatter. Sent off to my room to “think about what I did.” Never a follow up question regarding my thoughts. Never reassurance it was still okay, i was okay. Not much love floating in the airwaves. I was a shy awkward young girl who could use some guidance, but none was available. When I mustered up all my bravery and asked for some help, i was quickly shut down. Up went the wall!
My husband has helped me to break down the wall and communicate my feelings. Some days i can do this, some days i simply can’t. Either the words don’t come, i don’t know the words, or I’m afraid of the words I should be saying. Throw my therapist in the mix and we are working on it!
On his side of the family, big mean derogatory words can come barreling at you seemingly out of nowhere. Or you get the silent treatment. The in laws reside in Western NY, which you would think would be a blessing. It is, but it really isn’t. Distance can kill any kind of relationship, even if you work at it. When there is no consistent communication, the ship can go down in a hurry. My mother in law is the only tether to the sinking ship. We hang on, get bounced around and ejected over and over by his brother. But, his frail mother who sits slumped over in her wheelchair waits for my husband’s phone call twice per day.
Just in the last few days, she has been too weak to manipulate the cell phone. Too weak to eat and not terribly responsive. When you are 3000 miles away and the only link is an old flip phone its hard to know what’s happening. We find ourselves having to rely on the brother for information as he is power of attorney and the ungrateful boots on the ground in NY. The word “strained” keeps popping up in my mind to describe the relationship of these two men, but it really doesn’t do it justice.
Last year i stood my ground after i visited and had a subsequent hospitalization. I was out of work for 3 months. I am a highly sensitive being with bipolar I, some situations i just cannot handle. I delicately told my husband the environment was not good for me and my mental health. He agreed and declared I never have to go there again. Not realistic.
So here I am. mother in Law not doing well. Brother in law sparing with his medical information. Husband terrified if he doesn’t jump now he may never have a positive interaction with his mother again. what a freakin dilemma. How do i be of support to him and validate my own struggles with the family. Honor my own mental health. Be a doting wife full of empathy and love. How?