Mental Health; Self Exploration; When My Sister Really Died
I’ve come to a standstill in my life. I can’t move forward, and I can’t look back. I can’t remember the good times in my life for fear of reviving the bad.
Bad feelings, resentments, anger, spontaneous impulses that I acted out; there are a lot of ugly things within myself that I don’t want to exist, and so I suppress them. I suppress them so thoroughly that I cannot move, for fear I will do something to embarrass myself yet again.
I am very thin-skinned toward the reflections that I can see of myself in other people’s eyes.
I do not want to hurt anyone physically, cause pain emotionally, or be a negative influence in anyone else’s life. I don’t want anyone to choose a darker road because some influence - some word or action, by me – has caused them to act out.
Yet even when I sit very still or hide myself away from public sight; even when I try not to have any effect on anyone or anything at all, the very act of not acting still plays a role in the lives of others. Just by existing, I have an effect.
Since my last entry, I’ve fluttered all the way around the edges of this, wondering what I should write. It’s a huge obstacle for me; a great black pit I can fall into and never claw my way back out of again. I’ve been in that pit; I don’t like it down there. What’s worse, when you are in there, when you are completely immersed up to your neck in it’s clingy, tar-pit warmth, you are tempted by some perverse force not to fight it, but to instead stay; just to surrender to it. Stop fighting; simply lay back and wallow in it. It’s so much easier than fighting and feeling the emotional and physical pain that’s required to claw your way back out.
I don’t want to go back in.
For that reason, I don’t want to make anyone else go in there, either.
What I write may hurt somebody’s feelings or make somebody angry. It may make other people argue amongst themselves, or feel badly about themselves or others. They may look at me, and may be able to see a very clear reflection of themselves in my eyes. We all have to remember; the reflection we see of ourselves in the eyes of others is our own interpretation; it may not be what we think we see. We aren’t seeing what they, the other person, is truly thinking. We are seeing what WE are thinking they should see. Thus, we judge ourselves through the eyes of others.
I don’t like pain of any sort, and don’t want to inflict it on others. So. I’m at a standstill.
How do you do that? How do you open yourself up so that all can see what it is you truly are, without affecting the lives of those around you? The interactions you have with the people around you, even chance meetings with strangers, are what make you what you are today. You cannot speak only of yourself. We are all connected. We are all one.
The truth is, I want to write this to get it out in the open for myself; so I can look at it, and see what it is I truly am. If I add my own philosophy to that, I have to do it publicly like this, because it’s not all about me; it’s all about we. So if anybody else reads this, and reacts to it, please know this is a self healing exercise; although I have yet to see how I can possibly heal from it. I just need to see what it is I am, and move forward as best I can from there, because I’m no longer moving forward at all.
Not even with this. I’ve just written several paragraphs apologizing and making disclaimers for what I haven’t even written yet.
Since my last entry, I have procrastinated and found a million other things that I need to do around the house. Like deep clean the toilet, or scrub the basement floor. Even the dirtiest jobs seem preferable to trying to clean out the depths of my own soul.
I’m still trying to assimilate the ending to it all, and, forgive the pun, but it’s been a hard pill to swallow. It’s lodged crosswise in my throat, painful, dry. It leaves a bitter aftertaste in my throat. It won’t go down. It’s caused me to want to stop everything and simply go away, so that I can cause no harm to others ever again. But I can’t do that, because simply going away will cause just as much harm. I’m at an impasse.
It’s obvious to me now, the reason why I can’t write anything about my past history. I can’t explore myself and my issues, the good, the bad, and the ugly, until I swallow that pill which is lodged in my throat. I can’t dance around it anymore. There is an elephant in the room. I need to look at it, admit that it is there, and deal with it.
So, the only thing to do is to start at the end. Then maybe later, I can go back to the beginning. Maybe later, I can remember the good things, too.
The end for me started when my sister was dying. She wasn’t physically dying; I was letting her go. For me, this was as painful as if she were dying.
I had always wanted a family like my mothers family. She had 8 siblings, and no matter where they were in the world, they were all very close. At family gatherings, there was love and warmth and fun. That’s what I wanted too, and I made it happen, at least in my own mind.
I could write about a million things that happened throughout the relationship I had with my sister, things that lead up to that moment of letting go. I could write about how she would never come to visit us unless there was something in it for her. If she did come to visit us for no apparent reason, there was always an ulterior motive, which I would discover later, and be deeply hurt by it. All money and gifts we gave to her were sold and/or used to purchase drugs.
Anyone who has drug addicts in their family can tell you what it’s like. We try to help, but we receive nothing but contempt and feigned polite responses until we are out of their presence. Thank you, now get out.
We are nothing but a downer to drug addicts.
Literally, we are a buzz kill.
We love our families and turn a blind eye to the darker, shadowy areas; the dirty deeds. The things people do when they are desperate, especially when all of their previous safety nets are no longer enabling them anymore. They grow older now, and actually have real health issues, which prevent them from working real jobs. They can be legally prescribed pain medications, which is a relief, because it makes it legal to do the drugs now. Suddenly they are new people, and actually start to look down on the people who are still doing the same things they used to not so long ago.
“Oh, no; I don’t do drugs anymore. Yes, I do take the pills the doctor prescribed for me. Oh, no, I never smoke pot anymore. Well, I would never waste the money to buy it. I just smoke socially, when someone else offers me a toke now and then.”
I hear these words on almost every phone call I shared with my sister. I don’t even ask the questions, she just offers the information, as though she feels she needs to give me an explanation for the way she lives her life. I roll my eyes and bite my tongue. Someone offers them a toke each and every time they enter the house, and their house was a very busy place.
I often thought she said these words just to see if she could get a reaction out of me, because frequently, she would say them like this:
“We don’t smoke…” inhale… inhale…. hold, hold, exhale…. “…pot anymore.” Cough cough. “Well, not unless someone…” inhale… inhale… hold, hold, exhale “…not unless someone brings it over.” Cough. And so on from there.
As for the prescriptions, it’s true; they were prescribed, and the pharmacy refilled the prescription monthly. However, the monthly refills would be gone in less than a week. They actually needed their bottles refilled 5 or 6 times a month. In order to do that, they would have to buy their pills at street prices.
I have been around all this since I was a child; I was considered harmless to them; completely naive and blind, because when I visited, I would sit and watch all this go on around me, usually while they were in the process of telling me how they weren’t doing any of these things anymore.
I still haven’t decided whether they really thought I was that simple and trusting of a person, if they just considered me harmless because they knew I would not say anything about it, or if maybe they just saw me as a common piece of furniture in the room.
As I grew older though, it grew on my mind more and more that maybe, they did it just to flaunt it in my face, knowing I would say nothing because I so, so wanted to be in their company. If I said anything even slightly disapproving, I would be treated like an errant child who didn’t understand what the adults were doing. I would be punished by not being allowed access into the inner circle.
I didn’t want to be ostracized yet again for another 6 months.
Whereas they chose drugs over family, I chose to ignore the drugs as much as I could so that I could HAVE a family. I was like a tooth, trying to stay with the other teeth in a mouth, dangling by a loose nerve, and if you hit that nerve, the pain was immediate. So I danced around the nerve. Note that they didn’t; I did. Because you wanted them in your life, you had to keep your mouth shut and watch them kill themselves, because if you didn’t, you were told to leave and never return. "Family loves unconditionally!" they spit at you. You are just going to have to deal with it.
So I tolerated all this for the sake of family, all the while not realizing that they are doing the same for me; but there is a big difference. They don’t want to. They are tolerating me, and being forced to be on their best behavior when I am around. They are very relieved when I go away so they don’t have to hide things from me. Once I’m gone they can relax, and be themselves again. So if they could push at me and make me uncomfortable enough that I would leave sooner, they did, and I was just too hard headed to realize that this was the truth of all of it. I wanted so badly to believe I was a part of the family.
My mother and I went to see them frequently; it was an hour and 45 minute drive, and we went almost every weekend, for a while. They tolerated us when we came to see them, but they didn’t come to see us, because the things we asked for in my own house were completely uncalled for. They couldn’t smoke in my house; only on the porch. Worse, there was no constant drug activity going on, and we talked about things like school, work, or squirrels outside in the trees. We were boring. It was awkward to have to sit there and make small talk.
They were making a supreme effort for us as it was, having to tolerate our visits. When we came to visit, we stayed for hours; they would stay only a half hour, if that. We just made it too intolerable for them to stay longer. They made no restrictions on us. Why couldn’t we have the same consideration for them, and let them be themselves?
They made no restrictions on us. That’s how they felt.
But can you see the difference? I, who does not like smoke and gets instant migraine headaches from certain kinds of pot odors, (“skunkweed” is the worst) will go and sit for hours in a blue hanging haze of it, just so that I can be in their company; whereas, they are unable to sit in clean air for even an hour to visit with me in my home. The cloud of smoke has more value to them than my presence, however briefly they may have to go without it.
They have very real resentments against me. Family should love unconditionally. When they are in pain, and they spit at me out of anger, I should understand this. I am the one who isn’t compromising. Me! I am the one who’s judging. I should just let them have their way; it’s their life! As family, I should just give them money and help whenever they need it. It’s a free country; I have no right to judge, and I am judging, beyond a shadow of a doubt, when I refuse to help when a family member is in need. I’m making conditions; loving conditionally. That’s judging.
My father (when he was alive) and I always judged people: mom never did. Mom was always there to help. That is, until she moved in with me. That was another thing they resented. How could I be so high and mighty when I did exactly the same things they were doing? But now mom gave all her money to me, and I wouldn't let her share it.
My brother in law made more money than my husband and I ever made together, at the highest point in our lives, so for a while, money wasn’t a big issue. They smoked. They drank. They popped pills. They snorted crushed pills and white powders up their noses. They would do this in my car, off of my glove box, right in front of me. They made drug deals in their kitchen, right in front of me. People would come in the house and shoot up whiskey straight from a bottle: yes, whiskey. They would run it straight into a vein, and pass out cold. Everyone would laugh and ponder on the “what ifs”: it was a good thing they didn’t die! How would we have explained it? Hilarious.
All of this they did, right in front of me.
If this was their best behavior, what the Hell was it they were so carefully hiding from me?
Eventually, you have to “grow up”, though, and become an adult. This usually happens when you hit your late 20’s. Sometimes it doesn’t. Once you hit your late 30’s, reality slaps you a bit; parents pass away, and a lot of your old safety nets fall down. You can’t rely on people to “help you out” anymore. Then you hit your 40’s. You were making good money when you were younger; maybe you were making excellent money. But you didn’t save any of it; you used it all to maintain your habits; the habits that were once illegal, but are now legal, thanks to modern medicine. Every last cent you ever made and every cent you still do make is gone, living hand to mouth.
Then things happen. You lose your job, or get injured and can’t work anymore. What do you do then? Well, you have no choice, do you? You do things that you carefully hide from your family. But honestly, your family isn’t stupid. They don’t know what you are doing, but they do know you are doing something – the money has to come from somewhere. But as always, family will turn a blind eye, turn a blind eye… no see, no speak, no hear, for the sake of family.
Almost always there is some sort of life-altering incident that makes people see reason. Families hope and pray for this day to come, because hope springs eternal.
But that day came and went, and for me, that was the day my sister started to die.
The day finally came when my sister, whose family I wanted to be a part of for so long, did something irrevocable; and she involves me.
She calls to set up a weekend visit with me, just her and me, to sit and chat, watch movies, just hang out. She’s coming to my house. It’s one of those rare, special visits where she just drops by for no apparent reason whatsoever.
I was completely ecstatic. She was actually coming to spend the night, just her and me and movies and popcorn; no strings attached at all. Once again, I’m so tickled; I want it to be real so badly. I fall for it, hook, line and sinker. I should have been past this silly desire by now – I’m well past my 30s now, for God’s sake. But no, I’m as giddy as I was when I was 13. I was going to have a slumber party with my big sister!
She comes, and walking up the steps to my porch, I can see having fun is the furthest thing from her mind. I ask what’s wrong, try to cheer her up, but she shakes her head and puts on a smile, so I let it go. We watch some movies, talk, laugh, eat, and eventually start to drowse, curled up on the hide-a-bed couch.
Then the phone rings in the middle of the night, and the way she jumps up and answers it, I know she’s been waiting for it all night long. She speaks her rehearsed lines into the phone, but little does she know, I can hear the entire conversation. The voice coming from the other end of the line is that loud. A cold metal rod goes shooting directly through the newly made warm and fuzzy spot in the middle of my chest; it’s such a horrible sinking feeling, and it’s worse when you had just let up your guard against it. I realize I’m being used... again. I got up off the couch and started pacing the house. If I didn’t, I was going to fly into a rage.
I think that, this time, I was the most furious I’ve ever been in my life, and yet only my crazy anxiety showed. Only the anxiety.
When we woke our mom up and told her the devastating news, she immediately said. “Oh, my God. Honey. Did he do it?”
My sister was floored. How could we… what did we think, did we…. but she gave it up. They may think I am a complete half-wit, but not my mom.
Now she began to worry if he was going to get in serious trouble, because, if we (mom) could figure it out that quickly, obviously anybody could. She started feeling some serious anxiety then.
Not because of what they did: no. Because it had finally occurred to her they might get caught.
It was a wake-up call for me. This was the day my sister really started to die.
It should have been a wake up call to both of them as well. It should have screamed to them, look! Look at what you will do for a pill! Look at what you just did! I thought surely to God, this time would be it; this was the life changing, mind blowing, future altering experience that some people required. This was the near-death incident, the smack with a 2X4 across the side of the head that is often needed to make a person realize that drugs and alcohol are destroying their lives. That what they are doing is wrong.
The situation didn’t work out as well as they had hoped it would; in fact, it was months of Hell. Those who don’t believe in karma only need to open their eyes and see; she never fails, and she can be a real bitch. Unfortunately, though, bull headed people don’t even realize that she is paying them a visit for a reason. Regardless, they managed to pull it off, and where other folks in their place may have learned from the experience, they refused to admit to anything and continued stubbornly on, down the same path.
This was the worst of the incidents, but the truth is, they repeated variations of it several times.
I lost all respect I ever had for my sister and her husband. My sister was dying and I mourned her in my heart.
Oh, sure, it was her husband who did the actual deeds; she just got out of the way while it was happening. But she was condoning it. She had played the victim in my eyes for long enough. She had plenty of opportunities to escape that life – several of us had tried, over and over and over, to help her escape. But every attempt was simply a ploy on her part, to get the money they needed. As soon as she had attained her goal, she immediately went back to her old life, and showed us nothing but contempt for our attempts to help.
Why did we do that? Why? Why did we keep trying?
Because hope springs eternal - that’s why. Things can always, always, always change for the better. You don’t hate the person; you hate the actions the person is having. A person can, at any point in their lives, choose to act differently. And so we hope for this. We never give up hope for this.
Never give up hope. Never.
After seeing that life changing scenario played out, and seeing it have no effect whatsoever, well; it had a serious effect on me. I was completely horrified. I looked back on a lot of things that had gone on over the years and I realized something; these stories I had heard over the years that I had laughed off and never thought possible from my family members were quite possibly true. There were times when I had sat at the kitchen table with my brother in law and discussed the best ways to rig something, or to get out of something, or to get into something without anyone seeing, and I had laughed at the various methods we concocted; I thought it was all in good fun. Hilarious. I now realized that a lot of these theoretical models had probably been put to use in real life. The more I thought about it, the more horrified I became, and I couldn’t look at my family with the same eyes as I had when I was a teenager and everything was all fun, frolic and hilarity.
I felt a huge, ragged hole. That was the biggest alteration in our relationship. I thought it was the worst I would ever encounter. Before, I had resented being lied to, used, and treated like a big buffoon; I knew they thought I was someone who was easy to fool, who easily had the wool pulled over her eyes. They thought I was easy to play; a puppet; and in truth, I was, because I wanted to be with them. I wasn’t stupid; I just wanted my family more than I wanted to fight about right and wrong.
We did fight, though. Often. We went for months not speaking to each other, and people would say, “Life is too short – you have to let bygones be bygones.” And so I acted like I didn’t see anything. I thought I played that part well, as they became very lax around me, until I realized they were using this as a deterrent. They did these things so blatantly in order to make me go away; they knew I could only stomach so much. The resentment and hurt I swallowed down would build up to a head in me, and inevitably a blow up would happen, and we wouldn’t speak for months. It never occurred to me at the time that this was exactly what they wanted. Always, I came back with hope that things could still change.
Hope springs eternal.
As it turns out in this instance, I was the one who had been smacked with the 2X4. Nothing was ever going to change. We maintained contact, we still visited for the sake of our mother, but I knew that when mom was gone, our families would drift completely and irrevocably apart.
Then is when my own life started to fall apart a bit. I lost an excellent job; I became a stay at home mom for my 2 young sons. I also cared for 2 elderly adults, my mother and my father in law.
I was trapped in my house caring for kids and older people and I honestly have to say; I hated it.
I have to be honest with myself. I’m too selfish for selfless work like that. I need my down time, my alone time, and for the next 7 years, I didn’t have it. I was a career-oriented person, always independent, and never needed to rely on anyone else for long. Now I had become a homemaker, completely dependant on my husband’s money. This is what my sister had been her whole life. She was completely dependant on the care of a man.
I didn’t handle it well. Every spare moment when I wasn’t cleaning or taking care of other people, I was asleep. I went into a sort of lethargic state; I would force myself to go through the motions, then pass out on the couch and not wake up until I was required to do something again. I wasn’t attracted to anything fun; this just caused anxiety. I had things I needed to do. I did the things I needed to do. I took up residence inside the computer. If I have and addition, that would be it. On-line games consumed all of my time.
Then my husband lost his job, and things got a lot harder for us. I found a job that paid half of what I or my husband used to make, and supported us on that while my husband went through some serious life issues of his own. Both of his parents had recently died, and his relationship with them had been loving and close. Now he saw the loss of his job as a failure to his whole family, and it was more than he could bear. He became the stay at home dad and I became the working mom. It was a lot of big, painful adjustments, and I saw karma everywhere; and she had a right to be.
I was suffering from a lot of back and leg pain at the time; I hobbled around like a woman of sixty. I had just started the new job after seven years, and the learning curve was high and the rules fairly strict. I was still caring for two kids and a depressed husband, but then mom started suffering from dementia. She started falling down stairs and wandering out in the yard in the middle of the night, and insisting I call the fire department because she decided that the house was on fire. I thought I was going to go completely insane. My husband was good at handling the day to day aspects, but wasn’t very good at handling all this. I would hope for a moment’s respite when I got home from work, but everyone wanted my attention, and mom wouldn’t let me out of her sight. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without her trying to find me.
This was not a zen time for me. This is one of the places in my life that I’m most ashamed of. My biggest flaw is the fact that I am not there when I’m really needed. I resolve to be, but I’m not. I never am. I am not a good friend.
I was snarly and obnoxiously rude at times, and I was very upset with my mother. I was angry with her, and she was horrifying me. She was my one true confidant, the one person who had been a constant in my life, a solid; she was betraying me, doing this. She was abandoning me. I got mad at her for being “stupid”.
You really don’t get to see your own true colors until you are stressed to the point where you desperately need help, and there isn’t any. My husband is not a talker. Mom was my go-to person, and now she was gone. This was how I repaid her for all the years she was there, unwaveringly, for me. By being snarly and abrupt with her: by showing contempt for her lack of ability to function on her own. I was so mad, and frustrated, and beneath that, I was scared, because if this happened to mom, then it was going to happen to me as well.
I have proven to myself beyond the shadow of a doubt; I do not do well during stress, and should not be depended on for support, because I will completely collapse underneath your added weight. When the chips are down, I’m not a good friend at all. When the chips are down, I will let you drown so that I can continue swimming. There it is, in a nutshell. The truth.
At least I have this to fall back on; at least I was able to endure all this stress without drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Right?
Well, no, not exactly. I do drugs. In fact, I do a lot of drugs. I am doing drugs right now.
I’ve been doing drugs since I was 26 years old, when my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. My drugs are given to me by prescription, so that makes it okay. Of course it does. It also makes it exactly the same as what my sister was doing.
This is one of the reasons I have no right to judge. I do drugs too: it’s exactly the same thing. I’m just as addicted as they are. I can never stop doing drugs, or I will get mean spirited, lethargic and depressed, just like any normal drug addict does when they have to go without.
I rationalize that what I do is different. I follow the directions on the bottle. In fact, I frequently take less than what is written on the bottle. In fact, I often forget to take my medication at all.
I rationalize that this is a huge difference from spending every waking moment with your thoughts revolving around your pills. How many pills do you have left? Where are the pills? Where did you put the bottle? Who can you get a pill from when you run out? Who wants to take your pills from you? Are they safe? How many are left? When was the last time you took a pill, is it too early now? Take 2 this time; one barely takes the edge off. I need one more because today has been a really rough day. Do I have more? Where can I get more? Who took mine?!
This is the sum total of the conversations I had with my sister on the phone. I would listen to her ramble on about what she had and how many. I would sit there biting my tongue and listen. Even now, when she was dying to me, our mom would shame me and say she needed someone she could talk to. So I listened. If for some odd reason I would try to change the subject, she would lose interest in the conversation, and find a reason why she needed to hang up.
I don’t know, maybe I’m fooling myself, but to me, there is a big difference.
It all got to be too much for me, and I made the decision to put mom in a nursing home. Having her live with my sister was out of the question. Mom took many medications herself, and I could see in my mind’s eye the exactly what would happen now that she didn't have the mental capability to keep track of them herself.
It was out of the question, but I still entertained the idea. One weekend my sister decided to take her for 3 days, and we made the arrangements for that. When mom returned, my sister proudly declared, “Everything went just fine, and I only had to take 3 of her pills.” When I looked at her oddly, she explained “I had to help her into the bathtub. She slipped, and I caught her – but I pulled a muscle in my pack, so I needed something for the pain.”
I didn’t argue it. I just said, “Oh, of course. Mom wouldn’t have minded.”
She wouldn’t have, either. In fact, mom often coaxed them to visit by mentioning that she hadn’t taken her full prescription, and had several left over this month.
Then they would come. The flat tire, bad breaks, no gas, whatever it was that had prevented them from coming to see us before would miraculously be repaired, and they would come.
For half an hour.
“It takes an hour and a half to drive out there.” They would complain, and yet, my mother and I had been making that drive at least twice a month to go out to see them. But of course, that was because we had a better car. I guess this was true. We kept our cars for years. We didn’t sell our cars, or the good parts on our cars, to get money to buy drugs. Still, I found it amazing how easily their cars were fixed, when mom made these occasional offers.
Anyway, I said nothing. I appeared to be okay with her taking mom’s pills, but I wasn’t. This only strengthened my resolve that mom stay in my care. Before mom’s mind was too far gone, we went to a lawyer and had her sign a Power of Attorney, so that I had full control over her future. I was now solely and completely responsible for her care.
But still I struggled with the decision. I was disgusted with me. My husband was disgusted with me. He felt we could take care of her. She didn’t need to be in a sterile nursing home surrounded by people she didn’t know. But every day there were incidents. Mom would fall down the stairs. She would fall when my husband wasn’t home; I couldn’t lift her back up. Our only real bathroom was on the second floor. We did everything we could to make adjustments to the house so that she could stay, but as her condition worsened, it wasn’t enough.
When my sister found out what I was doing, she called and made the offer to have mom move in with her.
Yeah, that's right. I accepted.
I hung up the phone and started crying immediately, because I knew what I was doing was wrong. This woman who had given me life, who had stood by me through thick and thin, the only person who was always there for me through every aspect of my life; I was snarling at her because she was no longer capable of remembering anything; not even where the bathroom was. My mother had betrayed me now, by getting old and going senile. She was my only confidant in the whole world who would listen to every ugly thing I had ever done and respond with reason, without judgment, and always with love. She is without a doubt one of the real angels of this earth. People can sense that when they are around her, she is truly pure of spirit and good of heart.
My mom. She deserves to live in a comfortable home, with caring gentle hands around her, familiar faces, a hot cup of tea, and a fireplace. She should have a creaky wooden rocking chair and a handmade afghan shawl wrapped warmly around her shoulders. Maybe even a cat in her lap. She deserves to be able to look out a window and watch song birds at a feeder, or to wander through a garden full of vegetables and flowers and enjoy the trickle of water from a brook. In my minds eye, I could see her getting all that, living out in the country, surrounded by grand children and great grand children.
I started making plans on how to pack everything up, to take mom out to the country where she could stay and live with my sister.
To have even contemplated doing this is one of the biggest regrets of my life. It was a moment of weakness. In my denial, I could see her surrounded by loving family, being cared for by grand children. It was a quick way to fix everything; I was going to do it. I was seriously going to pack up my mother and send her away, to live with my sister. I actually stood up, crying, and started gathering her things together.
That decision lasted for two hours, if that. That’s when my husband asked me what I was doing.
My husband, the only person who has ever spent more that three years with me in my whole life, was completely incredulous. He reminded me of my vow. He reminded me that I had already determined, years and years ago, never to allow this to happen. I could see by the look on his face that he felt serious disgust and contempt for me. How could I even consider allowing such a thing to happen? She was my mother! I loved her!
He was right. I did love her, and I do love her. His words slapped the sense back into me, and I knew absolutely that I could not allow this to happen. So with my stomach rolling, I picked up the phone in shaking hands, called my sister and, weak person that I am, told her I was not letting mom move in with her. I blamed it all on my husband. He wouldn’t allow it.
I don’t react well during confrontation. I don’t like people being mad at me. My sister and I had been playing this cat and mouse game of pretending; we said we did things for other reasons than the real ones. We’d been playing this game since the day I was able to speak. People call it being polite. You don’t want to go to the birthday party, you really don’t like those people, so you tell them you have other plans, even though you don’t. No one ever responds to a request with “No, I don’t want to help you move this weekend. No, I’m not doing anything, I just don’t feel like it.” No, they can’t say that! They must make excuses.
So I made excuses as to why she couldn’t come live with her, and she had nothing nice to say to me. She really had nothing nice to say about my husband. We hung up on each other.
Once again, I feel guilty, and I can’t just let that go. I believe in honesty. My husband feels a lot of people look down on him; he looks down on himself. My family, other than mom, was never fond of him, and now here I was, adding more animosity to his plate. He had nothing to do with this. No one else had ANYTHING to do with this. This was just between me and my sister. Not even mom had any say in it, because at this point, she was no longer capable.
I looked at my husband resolutely and decided I wasn’t going to allow him to take the blame. He knew what I had told her, and he was fine with it. Just so long as old Cotton Top stayed safe with us.
I picked up the phone again, and this time I told her the truth.
It was here that the “death” occurred. The breach between us now became irrevocable. There were no more polite words, no more excuses to gloss over the truth. Those words, those excuses, those lies, had allowed us to maintain an illusion of a loving sister relationship, which was something I desperately wanted my whole life. But on this day, when she was 58 and I was 45, we stripped away and laid bare the truth beneath, and now it was too late. There was no way of ever repairing it, because it was beyond obvious to me that she had never, ever, wanted that relationship in the first place.
After that phone call, she wrote me a letter that confirmed my fears, and opened my eyes to things I had never even considered before. For the first time, I looked at our relationship through different eyes; her eyes. I really looked, and what I saw was something terrible to behold. I had never looked at myself like that before, and now that I have seen myself from that angle, I will never be the same ridiculous, confident, independent, happy-go-lucky, fun loving person that I believed I was, ever again.
What did it say in that letter? I have it here somewhere. I carried it around in my purse for 2 years. I think I scanned it into this very computer. I haven’t ever looked at it again.
Basically, it said that her whole life was my fault.
That is why I needed the back-story about us. This went back, right back to the very day I was born, actually, before I was born. I went back and looked at our life, through her eyes.
I saw a little girl of 5 emerging from a car wreck unscathed, while the rest of her family was hurt and would never be the same again. I saw how that must make her feel. I saw her raised up into her teens next to a sibling that would always get the lion’s share of the attention due to these injuries, and I saw how that must also make her feel. I saw how close they were, and then I saw that sibling, who she had grown so close to, suffer a tragic but not unexpected death.
Here, she would have become an only child.
How would that have made you feel? How would that have made anyone feel? I imagine turbulent cycles of guilt and love and exasperation and the need for a little personal attention. I imagine a lot of guilt, for being the lucky one. I imagine a lot of love shared between sisters. I imagine profound sadness, and maybe a little relief in the passing of that sibling, knowing that they are free of pain - guilty because the family is now free from the burden of care. Nobody ever talks about that part: the guilty freedom.
At this point in life, things could have changed a lot for all of them. They could have become a family of three, and she could have been given exclusive attention. They would have been free to move, to do things they weren't able to do before. But they couldn't do these things, and the attention would never be focused on her, because four years before my eldest sister died, I was born. I was a "surprise"; an unplanned pregnancy. I became the new burden; the new focus. She never even had a year or two of their attention for herself.
Was my sister a drug addict before I was born? She was 13 when I was born. So I think not.
She started using drugs, though, before my eldest sister died. After I was born.
I reviewed every instant of my known existence from that point forward and could see, very clearly, that she was right. If I had never been born, things could have and would have been much different for all of them.
If I had never been born to further distract my parents, my eldest sister might have even lived longer. I could see that now.
I now knew that indeed, I had been put on this earth for a purpose; to be an obstacle in the lives of others. I flashed through the rest of my life, and saw it occur in almost every relationship I had ever had outside of my family as well. I left a path of chaos in my wake, as I blithely made my happy-go-lucky way through life, oblivious to everything around me. I was a bull in a china shop. The more I looked at myself and reviewed my life, the more proof of this I saw.
If my life had not been shattered before, it was now. I was 45 years old, and only now did I realize what I was. Only now could I look back on every place I had lived, every person I ever knew, and see the effect my presence had on their lives. I could look back on every job I ever had and understand more clearly the interactions I had with other people. Every realization made me cringe further and further within myself. I was a complete and total embarrassment. I was a person who went around and, with the absolute best of intentions, made life more complex and difficult for everyone involved.
I don’t know how I managed to continue functioning over the next 6 months, but somehow I managed to do it. I went to work and did the best job I knew how to do, with all the meticulous care I was capable of doing. I moved my mom into the nursing home and set up her room to look as homey as it possibly could, and we visited often; several time a week, at first, to make sure she settled in comfortably. I took care of my kids and my house and my husband, all while I mourned the death of my sister and the death of the life I had thought I had led. It was all a dream I had in my head, smoke and mirrors that had come crashing down and left exposed nothing but the stark truth.
That was what I did, with that phone call. I exposed the stark truth. I was so sure what I was doing was right, I was so sure I was the “good” daughter. But I wasn’t. I was the spoiled, coddled daughter, who had been sheltered my whole life from seeing the very worst of life. Even my sister protected me, by hiding the things I didn't ever see. When things got bad, I could always run home to my parents; and I did. More than once.
I never knew what it was really like to have to live with nowhere else to turn. I never really felt true desperation.
Once again, my husband pulled me back, roughly, to my senses. Yes, I ran home to mommy; but SHE could have run home to mommy, too. I obeyed the stipulations my parents placed; she didn’t. She made her choices. I was a jackass to think her whole life was my fault. She made her own choices. She would have been who she was, whether I had been born or not.
I could see that he was right, too, but now my vision had so much more depth and perspective than it once did. I pulled myself out of the deep mourning depression I was experiencing and continued to function. But since then, I have not been able to move forward, because now I can see the effect I have had on people’s lives. I always seem to enter into a situation with the best of intentions, but if I cannot withstand the heat, I withdraw, and leave others to stand alone in a place we had entered together. I am actually dangerous to the people I love, because they believe in me and would follow me in. Now I can not let them do that. I look at my sons, my husband, my co-workers, and my mom. I have to be aware of the effect I have on everybody. I was ignorant of it before, but now, with this new found knowledge of my own behavior, there is no excuse.
My sister never came to visit our mom in the nursing home, but she wrote her a letter, and she still called me occasionally after that. I never called her, because for me, it was over. Finally, she called and said to me, in tears, that I was the only family she had left, and she wanted me to be a part of her life. I told her, in tears, that I would like that. I told her I had wished for that my whole life. We told each other we loved each other. I do not doubt we both meant what we said. But we also knew what we were doing; we were back to being polite to each other.
I hung up the phone and never spoke to her again. That was about two years before she actually died, on December 29, 2013.