Redemption, Love and Other Challenges

After many failed marriages I begin again, not with a marriage, but with a relationship that transcended all the marriages and relationships. A relationship based upon 20 years of unvarnished truth. A relationship, that although lovely, is stripped of the pretty illusions of happily ever after.

But first a story.

My little mother is living with dementia. She lived with me for almost two years until seizures, a serious fall and cdiff stressed her already frail body. She resides now in a residential facility that offers what few, if any, nursing homes offer – true community.

More on that later.

I sit with my mom many evenings and answer questions about her life. Long stretches of family memory have vanished. Most of her memory of my life is gone. To everyone she beams and says “this is my daughter.” I can do no wrong. I am her protector and her joy. This is a blessing for me, a chance to make up for the heartache and worry my life choices caused her tender heart.

One evening she asked me “are you married?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Mommy I have been married before and it never worked out.”

“Really?”

“Yes really. Mommy do you know how many times I have been married?”

“No, how many?”

“Five.”

Silence for a moment.

“No, you’re kidding.”

“No, really five times.”

She then turns to her best friend Evelyn and says “can you believe she has been married five times?”

Evelyn, who has been married over 70 years says to me …

“What’s wrong with you?”

Food for thought.

Why did I always leave instead of stay and work through situations that developed, in part, from my issues.

Abandon or be abandoned.

Now, I am committed to staying the course, which at this late stage of the more likely includes illness, infirmity, wrinkles and death.

Five Husbands on Karen sugarpants

I am guest posting on Karen sugarpants today – got it in just under the wire – Up Goes Mr. Down

Brothers Then

Brothers Then

Brothers Now

Brothers Now

A family of lost souls

Today was Son No. 1’s birthday. I wish I could write a happy, jolly, rollicking good story about food and celebration shared with family and friends, but I can’t. Not that we didn’t celebrate, because we did, only it was very subdued.

The past few months have been challenging to say the least. Divorce, job loss, stress and more stress have exacted a toll on my small family. For my boys my mom was a safe haven through the storm. She has always been their rock, so much so, that they didn’t notice that she was aging. When she fell in February they were certain that she would recover better and more sassy than ever. And she did, but once she was discharged home she began to change becoming more forgetful and fuzzy with each passing day.

Mom and the boys

Thursday morning she got it into her head she had a doctor’s appointment. First she went across the hall to her neighbor’s apartment to ask her for a ride. She became flustered when the neighbor wasn’t home, so she called her upstairs neighbor – repeatedly. Then she started calling a friend of the family. He called me. I had him take her to the ER to make sure she wasn’t having a stroke.

The fact of my mom’s decline kicks the family drama into high gear. After my brother’s death, without discussion with any other family member, my mother signed over all her health care to my brother’s widow. I objected, without success, and this woman now controls every aspect of my mother’s life.

It is heartbreaking because the bottom line is that my mom is fading and the woman who controls her destiny does not want to communicate with me. I took care of my mom during her last serious illness, now I am an outsider. I have to fight for even basic information. The isolation I feel and the hard reality of her decline break open my heart and flood my senses with memories and regret.

I am a grown woman and a child in the same instant. I am here writing this and at the same time I am back on Ravenwood walking home from school. One moment I see my mom bent with osteoporosis, struggling for words, and the next I am standing in the hallway of my childhood home answering a ringing phone the day after my father’s death.

I am here now, full of sadness and grief that I cannot share with my only living sibling, and at the same time I am a 15 year old girl, full of sadness and grief over my dad’s depression, that I try to share with him, but he’s not listening.

My family doesn’t communicate, nor do they forgive. This dynamic explains why I am constantly on alert, ready to bend my soul to fit within a constantly shifting emotional landscape. Nothing has ever been clear; nothing has ever been safe.

Son No. 1 shares the same birthday as my older brother and my father’s father (both deceased), so it is natural that birthdays bring up family history. His fiancé is a genealogy wizard and since she had just received my dad’s Navy records, the discussion turned to family history and dynamics. The discussion was made even more poignant because of the events of the past week.

Neither of my parents was raised in a stable home. My mother immigrated here when she was a teenager; her father had lived in the USA through most of her childhood. My grandmother stayed behind in Europe until he was ready to bring them here. It was not an easy life. My grandmother knew nothing of mothering; she herself was illegitimate, given away at the age of 8 to work as a servant to a distant relative. My grandmother, although loving to her grandchildren, was never very motherly towards my mom. In fact I never saw her show any affection to her only daughter. Ever.

My father’s birth mother died at the age of 29. His father remarried almost immediately to a woman who, family lore says, hated the very ground my father walked on. His home life must have been miserable because he ran away at the age of 7 to work in the circus. He returned home briefly at age 11, but was gone for good by the time he was 15.

I can’t imagine what it was like for either of them, but it sure explains the lack of laughter in our home. The knowing of their history now, against the backdrop of my mom’s fragility and the larger family dysfunction, makes me feel as though I am falling through time. I can’t get my footing.

I miss my brother. I wish I could tell him how my heart is breaking that my mom is at the end of her life. I miss being able to talk about my dad and growing up. I miss him. I miss him even though he doesn’t miss me.

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like smoked meat

It is a given that most families are dysfunctional and that the holidays are the Dysfunction Olympics. My family has taken gold 3 years running and I am quite sure we are good as gold this year, notwithstanding Jamie Spears’ teen baby not so shocker. We are, after all, competing in the Senior Division (all sibs and their spouses over the age of 50).

Events in the senior division include: 1. tightest ass at a family event (not including a funeral); 2. coldest shoulder at a family event (again not including a funeral); 3. “mom has always like me best” ; 4. “my children are better than your children”; 5. name the biggest disappointment (team competition); 6. “I know what’s best for mom”; and 7. Funeral free for all or “let me tell you what I really think of you.”

The Holiday Dysfunction Olympics does not require that we build a “village.” In fact the further you have moved from home and isolated your castle and fiefdom the higher the judges score. Thanksgiving kicks off the opening ceremonies. If you received a phone call from mom – score 5.1; if mom is staying with you – score 10; if mom isn’t staying with you and you receive phone calls from mom and all the sibs – and you don’t have to place any of those calls – 8.9; if neither mom or the sibs call – 0.0 – you’ve been bounced from the games for “alleged misconduct.”

Thanksgiving Shadows

Thanksgiving will be over within the next fifteen minutes. All in all it was a good day. I awoke early to get the cooking started which was quite a feat since I didn’t get to sleep until 3AM. I even got to watch some (most) of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. First off I baked the pies, moved onto the stuffing and then the bird. I realized I cooked it at too high a heat but I think that I came by that mistake honestly. I seem to remember my mother saying – year after year – “the bird cooked so quickly.” I wonder if she, as I did this morning, cooked the bird at 350 instead of 325 degrees.

It was all right in the end.

So the turkey temp was the first memory/shadow. The second was a diaphanous gray curtain just outside my field of vision all day. Wait, perhaps it was the first. Yes, it was first. I dreamed of ice and snow again just before waking. I think I was trying to get to love. Getting to love over an icy pond. Getting to family over an icy pond.

All that trying made me tired.

This was the first huge dinner I had cooked in sometime. The turkey was organic (YES it does make a difference), delicious and plenty for everyone and left overs. The boys, Mel and the kids had a good time. We barely missed the fact that Nanny didn’t call to wish us well. We didn’t miss the call from the sibs MIA in the family wars; their silence is second nature to us now.

Mel has done substantial research on the family tree and the screwed up family dynamics are not unique to this generation. It goes way way back. On my mother’s side: her mother, my beloved “Baba” was illigitimate and given away at 8 (yes you read that correctly) to clean and work for a distant relative. On my father’s side we know more (they had been in this country longer – long enough for the dysfunction to actually be documented in federal census records): my father’s father – my grandfather was raised by his grandfather (are you following) his father, initials WW, for some reason abdicated responsibility. So it should come as no surprise that when my father’s biological mother died, his father remarried a woman who apparently had issues. Her dislike of my father led to his running away to join the circus at the tender age of 8. Yes you read that correctly -8.

So my mother was mothered by a woman who had no childhood; my father was fathered by a father whose own father had left him at his grandparents doorstep. Is it any wonder that neither of my parents knew how to parent or how to build a strong and supportive family unit?

When I was growing up holidays were always dicey. It was either family issues, money issues or, in later years, my father’s increasing depression. The ultimate holiday joy death knell was my father’s death in 1968 the day before Thanksgiving. That pretty much insured that my mother would never enjoy another holiday. And she didn’t.

After 1968 when the light began to change from fall’s golden color to winter’s silver my mother would begin sighing. “I hate this time of year.” “I don’t want anything; holidays don’t matter.” When the grandchildren came she brightened just abit, but by that time the sibling drama had begun to play out on the holiday stage. So really, she might have been more engaged in the process, but her emotions, never overly warm, were kept more deeply in check.