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.
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.