Family time

My sister’s birthday was yesterday.  Although we haven’t been speaking since 2011, her birthday is not meaningless for me.  We had been very close all of my life, save for the periodic episodes of her deciding not to talk to me.  Those started after I got sick(er) and increased in frequency as the years went by.  The first one was in 2005, when things really took a turn for me.  It was a tough year, marked by a bad break up of a long  term relationship (in part because the guy couldn’t handle being yoked to a sicky), a transformation in my migraines to daily headaches, the addition of vertigo, massive weight loss from the then recent state change in my gut, and the onset of debilitating hip pain which now just comes and goes.

The next time my sister stopped talking to me was when I was un/underemployed after leaving grad school due to the inability to manage my health without academic accommodations.  And then most recently, this.  This is the longest period so far, coming up on 2 years.  We’ve had one short facebook chat, around this time last year, when I stumbled upon a news story in the local Big Northeastern City Big Newspaper where our mother was interviewed about her having come to the catholic faith late in her life.  The writer of this piece wanted to show how a parish was still growing despite the sexual abuse scandal that has been sweeping the catholic church for years now.  I don’t know if my mother was put forward by the parish leadership or if she self elected to tell “her story” but somehow she ended up as one of three people interviewed for it.  Her “story” was that she felt bad seeing the effects of the abuse and identified with the church leadership because there had been abuse in HER family and she didn’t know about it until too late and now, like the catholic church, had to deal with the mess.

Yes, she did.  My mother did liken herself to the pope.  And she also did completely and so publicly revise my family’s history – most notably with regards to her knowledge and the timing of that knowledge.  She knew plenty early to do something to stop it from continuing, and she didn’t.  The person who told her was my sister, as a very young child.  My mother knew, and she did not take steps to remove the abuser from our home or to protect us from him.  And so the abuse continued for years.

I wrote a scathing letter to the reporter.  Because she didn’t disclose the relation of those “abused” in my mother’s story, I don’t think the reporter technically violated privacy laws.  However, she acted unethically and I was sure to let her know exactly what I thought of that.  Before sending in this letter, because it disclosed some details of the abuse and my family’s history, I wrote to my sister and told my little brother.  See, that’s what you’re supposed to do before you start airing family’s dirty laundry in public.  They were both ok with what I wrote and with my sending it in.  But aside from that interaction, I have not had any conversations with, emails between, or sightings of my sister since late Fall 2011.

photo of boston from beach

4th of July, from the beach in my hometown.

This time, we stopped talking with a bang instead of the usual inscrutable random reason, like “you rolled your eyes when I said X during conversation Y at Christmas!” (2005).   This time, I blew the hell up.  It was related to health stuff.  I’d spent the day in the hospital, a day that was supposed to be a vacation day that I was going to spend with her.  The day after Halloween, and I had been looking forward to it for months.  But I’d had chest pain for days, that just kept getting worse.  Called my doc  after the weekend was over and was told “go to the ER!”  I hate that.  I won’t do that again, but I did it that time.  My sister took me, didn’t have to but she offered.  But I could tell she didn’t want to be there, stuck in the ER with me appearing not to be ill except for occasionally flinching when the pain gripped my chest.  So I told her if she wanted to go she could.  She did.  And fucked off for a while.  When time came to pick me up, I called and got no answer a few times.  Finally I got her, she was doing dishes.  She picked me up and instead of going straight home where I could rest (because I got speed and steroids in the ER and felt like shit), we had to stop at her house and finish doing whatever she was doing….her house was warm.  Bright.  Difficult.  Then to my place, where she did her laundry (I offered, but I had figured she’d maybe at least start it during the hours I spent in the ER).  And then the family bullshit.  She hadn’t been talking to my brother for a while at that point.  They’d had a fight.  She was supposed to see him that night for the first time in a while.  And she wanted to strategize with me I guess.  Talk about it.  Analyze it.  In the weeks before this planned event, she had tried to engage me in similar discussions.  I had told her that I did not want to be in the middle of her and my brother again.  That I hoped things worked out and they could reconnect but that I was not going to mediate.  I told my brother the same thing.

That night, in the course of this discussion, I tried saying this again.  And god I was so tired and so sad about my day being blown to shit.  And about not being able to do the things I wanted to.  My guard was down and my emotional resources were just gone.  And she decided that my brother and I had been conspiring against her, money was involved (tangentially, I thought but not for her).  She started going into her seething rage mode, tight mouthed and snippy.  The one that I, by that point, knew marked the start of a several month’s silence on her part.  I was panicky about this, those “no talking” times hurt, as I am pretty sure they were designed to do.  Then I got pissed off.  How dare she drop this in my lap, and then especially.  Why did it always have to be all about her and her tragic life?  And I got snappy with her.  She was going to leave in a huff, as she does before not talking to me for months, and seeing that this was where things seemed to be going, it was like a spark for what – that day – was a very short fuse.  If she’s going to act like my having a bad reaction to her bullshit is a monstrosity, then why do I hold back?  Why hide the rage and frustration that I feel about my health and my life getting so small, why hide how much it invalidates and demoralizes me when she sits there telling me all the things I should do, or could do (if only I’d stop playing sick apparently)….why hide how angry it makes me when an occasional failure to treat her with the delicate kid gloves she requires results in earning her apparent spite and condemnation? And so this time, I really blew up.  And while I’ve missed my relationship with her, I have not missed the relationship we had had for the last few years.  What I missed was one that had been gone for a while.

In the very early morning of her birthday, I woke up screaming.  That was 1:00 AM July 4, and my throat still hurts.  It was a lot of screaming.  It was a bad dream.  It involved illness, my mother, my sister, so much pain – both physical and emotional.  At the end of this horrible dream, I was being held down and hurt horribly, and woke up screaming.  Woke up my husband, who – god bless him – tried to calm me by holding me tight.  Not a good idea.  It took at least a half hour for me to stop crying after finally being able to articulate that he needed to let go.  Crying partly about becoming combative with him in my confusion, partly from the remnants of rage and horror, and partly from the continuing physical pain which rapidly became very real when my too tight muscles and rigid tendons were locked in his arms.  We finally got up and came downstairs, smoked, and recovered.  I told him about the dream and I said I was really sorry for throwing elbows while he was trying to comfort me.  I explained that if I need to be held after  a dream like that (they happen about 2x a year, more during stressy periods or holidays and family birthdays), I will tell him.  He was deeply apologetic for holding me like that, he said he had only wanted to comfort me and stop me from getting hurt – which I really do get.  When someone who dislocates is thrashing violently (not to mention screaming like they are being stabbed), it makes sense to want to hold them.  I told my husband that it was a good thing my parents lived far enough away to be inconvenient for me to drive over there and just start slapping.  If someone’s going to get elbowed in the face because I continue to suffer the ill effects of a broken development, it should be them.

In the late morning of the 4th, my brother texted me that my uncle died the night before.  This is not a man I knew well.  This is the second husband of a once favorite aunt.  Favorite of us kids, not of me specifically – she is my brother’s godmother and while she and her first husband made us all very welcome in their home, they had a special bond with my little brother.  Went spent a lot of holidays with her and her first husband.  He was a kind man who, even after getting sick with liver cancer, would try to be as fun as he could for quite some time before the depression and physical illness robbed him of that.  They had been very much in love and he had died young and rather suddenly.  Lost weight, got jaundice, got diagnosed, died all in a few months.  It took my aunt a long time to recover some footing from this.  Finally, at quite a later point in life, she met a man who she adored.  They quickly married.  I met him with her at another uncle’s funeral in 2007.  She seemed so happy, despite the sad occasion, when she spoke of this man and looked at him.  I was happy for her. A few years later, he had a stroke.  Then another.  A pretty bad one.  The next time I met him, last year, he had significant aphasia.  He could speak but it was with significant effort.  I found out from little brother that a few months ago, he had deteriorated further, another stroke, and had been transferred to hospice/rehab.  Basically, it was rehab but the staff and my aunt knew that it was really just comfort measures and palliative care.

The practical upshot of this is that I will be seeing the family quite soon for the memorial services.  What a week to have to see them.

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  1. Wow, wow, wow. I can really relate to this (minus the having a sister/Catholic mother thing). That thing you mother did is very familiar, though. The poor me, go hang yourself on the cross thing (I tell my mother to do that–always the martyr). First off, I’m sorry you got the crappy family, as well. I know you mentioned abuse ions ago and I only experienced verbal abuse, so that is very horrific to me as I dealt with that with the kids I worked with. When you describe your sister, it’s as if you are pulling all these people in my family together. There are the no talking times, the short fuses, the money conspiracies, the lack of empathy, the make believe disease theories, and on and on. It all hurts, no matter how tough we may act in real life. It hurts more when it comes from family you once had a good relationship with–as if they just slapped you in the face and turned their back on you. I’ve often said that my dad just died sometime in the mid ’80s.

    I don’t know how to deal with holidays when I’m estranged from someone or really how to deal with the estrangement in general, and I’ve been estranged (or am) from everyone in my family at one time since getting sick and it sucks. I absolutely refuse to go to Seattle (you probably saw mention of my last trip there in ’09) and it is sad that I will likely never see my great uncle in his 90s ever again. I guess I had to draw the line after so many years of their neglect, abuse, and dysfunction. My mother is the next to go (she’s a snow bird–spends the summer in Seattle). It’s so close after how she acted last night on the phone, but at least she’s in Europe for a whole month now (what a freakin’ life). I wish I had any other advice. I know you have a counselor now and hope they can help. That nightmare sounded so scary. Omg. You have enough on your plate to deal with. Glad you have little brother at the very least.
    A x

    • Thanks A. It was scary and it really did suck. It’s put me in a mood all week since. I’m between counselors, technically. Seeing someone as a stop gap who I don’t really have the commitment to invest in. but I have a first appointment with a possible new long term therapist next week so that’s good. I know the dream was as much about being sick as it was my family, that’s the first time it’s been present so obviously and horribly in one of those dreams.

      Like you, I also found some comfort working with kids from abused homes. I don’t seek them out expressly, but when I find them at work, I try to provide a safe space for them to at least talk about what’s going on. So often, people who aren’t from that context want to say “but she’s your mom! you have to forgive/love/make up/blahblahblah hallmark blah”. I say you don’t. You shouldn’t carry hate, drag that sword around and sharpen it as a hobby. But I do not feel anyone owes a non-contrite person even one ounce of forgiveness. So for these kids, I tried to at least be someone who wasn’t going to either pile on with the “let’s hate your mom/dad!” or the “oh you need to just love them more!” crap.

      • Amen to that. I treated the kids I worked with (ages 6 and up) as adults I think, probably due to not being into babies and all. I so hate the “but she’s your mom” comment, as well. There’s a noun and a verb there: mother and mothering. I saw the worst of moms in the projects and the prisons. I think that’s admirable that you do take them under your wing, because I think you have to have walked in their shoes to some degree for them to trust you. I happened to work in bilingual ed. for the public schools in college my Sr. year and had that on my resume, so when I couldn’t find a salaried job after college and a year in Mexico, I ended up at the B&G Club and it just fit and I knew I could be that stable person and mentor that I never had growing up once my father lost interest. Anyway, do hope you find a good counselor. I’m still lost on what happened w/mine going from the weirdo wall in the room w/Einstein theories to who he is now. Hope it lasts…

      • I know, I was amazed at the turn around in your therapist. I am glad for it. And glad for you that you have this resource.

        First appointment this week. Fingers crossed that she’s good. I hate provider shopping. :/

      • Fingers crossed for you. Yeah, I had the big talk with my counselor and he actually apologized the next week (more like said he should have done X, Y, and Z) and then the big change and he has facial expressions and talks now. No more weird comments every 20 mins/blank stare. I have no clue–maybe he sat and thought about it for a long time. 🙂

      • blank stare, I’ve had that kind of therapy. No good!

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