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Not so Random Ramblings. A Eulogy for One Woman
A Eulogy for One Woman. Or Maybe for Our Way of Life.
No one else did it. I thought about it, but I didn't have the guts to get up and walk up there. A few people stood up and spoke. I noticed not a single one of them was her real family.
No one of blood - the ones that are really supposed to love you, through thick or thin - stood up and spoke for her or gave her a eulogy. The people who hired her as a maid, and the children of her employers, they were the ones who spoke. Her employers.
I was so totally horrified by that. And so I thought about going up there, but I'm not one of her blood, either. I'm an in-law.
I had so much I wanted to say, but I didn't. I really didn't know her all that well. Everything I knew of her was mostly hearsay, and maybe, just maybe, I was wrong in my personal perceptions of her.
Well, perception is reality. This is the way I saw her, through my eyes, as a person who heard about her life from the third or forth telling of her story, and who saw her in person and spoke to her on holidays, or vacations, or over the phone. I was never her pal, or confidant. We were mere acquaintances.
But I have felt such a passionate rage for that woman. Almost more than for anyone else I have ever known. I have seen, through her, one of the true horrors of our society that is carefully covered over and ignored.
Covered over. And ignored.
This woman was married; at least twice, and I've heard the dark rumors about these relationships; drugs and alcohol, insanity, one husband was put into a home for being mentally unstable. I heard rumors of physical and mental abuse. All these things happened well before my time.
Two children came from these relationships; both boys. There were dark rumors of physical and mental abuse to them as well, and they grew up pretty much wild, without a father. This woman took all the guilt for the experiences her two children went through. She took it into herself, and she owned it. As a single mother, she worked two or three jobs at a time to keep them housed, clothed and fed. She gave them everything she was capable of giving, and more.
So they grew up. They both dropped out of school. One started doing very serious drugs, and the other drank and dabbled in the drugs. They worked enough to pay for their own habits. Sometimes. One of them worked harder than the other, but not by much. The family was lucky in that she owned the house they lived in; yet they struggled to pay the bills. Or, I should say, she struggled. She basically worked her heart out doing physical, back breaking work, and poured the money she made into the mouths of two boys who were eventually men; full grown and healthy and doing absolutely nothing for themselves.
When I came to know her, her sons were both in their very late twenties. Both strong, healthy, fairly good looking men. Both still living at home. No education, no job, wasting money and time on drugs and alcohol.
She worked full time as a maid for some very wealthy doctors on the other side of town, where she would go and put in a full day's work for each of them. She would do anything they asked her to do.
She would babysit their kids while trying to clean the house; they would take the opportunity to run errands while she was there, but she was not paid extra to babysit. She would move heavy boxes and rearrange furniture. She would even go outside and do heavy yard work, cutting branches off trees and hauling them off into piles. Anything they asked of her, she would do, and she would stay late to do it. And they paid her enough to get by. Around Christmas time, they would give her bonuses that I remember seeing her cry over, not because it would help her with the holidays, but because it would help her catch up on her debts. I remember telling her she deserved more than she was being paid, but just smiled. She would never ask for more; she was happy that she was receiving anything at all.
She was always happy. Always smiling and always exuding a persona of cheer, full of energy and exuberance. She seemed springy to me, always poised on the balls of her feet, ready to bounce up and do anything you might suggest. We asked her if she could come over and feed our animals while we went on vacation; it would have never occurred to her to say no. Even when she came home from working late, she would come over and take care of our animals for us while we were away.
I do not remember one single time when she ever said no to a request we made, asking her for help. Help that we "needed" so that we could go on vacation.
Did she ever go on vacation? Did she? I honestly don't know.
Did we ever help her? We did; but carefully. I for one know intimately where the money goes, when you try to help people who abuse drugs and alcohol. Due to my experiences, drug abuse is something I have very little tolerance for anymore; I will not help you with it. Absolutely no. Not that. Drug abuse is something only you can help yourself overcome; unless you, yourself, make the supreme effort, no outside force with even superhuman strength has any power to help you. None. And money does nothing but enable.
Did this woman abuse drugs and alcohol? Once again, I don't know. I never saw her in any state other than completely clear eyed and sober. She was always cheerful, always full of energy, always poised and ready to help. Always. She had a homely face full of expression and character, and a little bit of a country twang. She called people sweet heart and honey. She was very, very thin.
She never asked for help except as a last resort.
The times we did help her were mostly for car troubles. Her boys were not easy on cars. We helped her with the stipulation that she be the only one in her household who was allowed to drive the vehicles. As far as I know, she never broke that rule; but it didn't stop her boys. If they could not drive the car, they could still destroy it by driving another vehicle into it.
One of her boys was in and out of jail; constantly. She worried over both of them and gave them money, which they spent as they pleased. One story tells of a day the family was seen at a store together; one boy was demanding the beer in glass bottles rather than cans, even though the canned beer was on sale. She bought him the bottles, because he started to make a scene over it. One story tells of a time when she was sick with the flu; she struggled to the store, doubled over, to buy herself some orange juice. When she made it home, she managed to put it in the fridge before collapsing into bed. The boys had come home and, seeing there was no beer, had taken the unopened orange juice back to the store and traded it in for a six pack. She laid in her bed at home, weak, with a fever, without even the strength to make it to the bathroom for a glass of water. You would think someone else living in the house would actually check on her condition or fill a glass with juice and bring it to her. They just went to the basement and drank their beer.
I was totally floored by this whole thing. My opinion? Kick that useless lazy pair of deadbeats to the curb and let them fend for themselves! How about being almost 30 years old and living at home, completely dependent on momma? Demanding indignantly that they be given bottles over cans? And if someone had traded in MY orange juice while I was sick... I mean, really? Really?! Stories like these filtered in to us over the grapevine, and they infuriated me. I wondered why she didn't put them out.
Then, at some family get together - I believe it was a child's birthday party - there was one of those rare, open moments, when I was able to talk to her about it.
I learned then of her deep personal guilt. Her kids were the way they were because they had no father. It was her life choices that made her children the way they were. She was completely and totally at fault. I told her about enabling, and how she wasn't helping them by giving them what they needed to pursue their habits.
And she explained, very sincerely, in her sweet country drawl; "If I don't give them the money, they will go out and find the money some other way. They will steal it, or hurt someone to get it. They will end up in jail. I will be at fault, because none of that would have happened if I had only given them the money to begin with. If I give them what they want, I can stop other people from getting hurt. I can stop them from going to jail."
In this, she felt she had some power and control over the course of future events. How do you argue with logic like that?
And so it went. She worked with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, while they took from her and pursued whatever they wanted to pursue. They got girlfriends and brought them home; she had to start caring for them as well, and began putting up with new abuses; her possessions were stolen and sold, she had more mouths to feed and people to clean up after, and on top of that, she was being talked to contemptuously by young, moody, physically abusive, drug abusing girls.
Through the grape vine I heard the dark whispers of late night house calls from the police, breaking up domestic violence issues. I heard of 911 calls for the boys; one of them had been severely beaten several times, or one of them had overdosed and needed to be revived several times. Or one of them had a warrant. Several times. Through it all, she continued to go to work every day and put on a smile to cover over all her problems. But her usual lively exuberance was slowing, as she came home every night to a mess she tried to deal with completely on her own. She isolated herself more and more from the rest of the family because, after all, it was her fault, and no one else should have to be bothered with it.
We tried to help. A little. We would pay a bill for her - actually go and pay the bill, because we didn't want the money going elsewhere - and at one point we gave her a car we had inherited, provided that her boys never used it. Like I said earlier, she honored that rule; but the boys still managed to total the car. After that we helped her to find a new one with the insurance money. She appreciated our help, but now, her smile was more of an embarrassed grimace, and she spoke to us even less frequently; she didn't want to bother us anymore that she already had.
I, by this point, could not in a thousand years ask her to help me with my animals. I mean, yes, we paid her for her help, but was the money worth working an 18 hour day? For money you never really got to use yourself?
She was so, so thin.
So then, one of the boys, using needles for his habit, comes home with hepatitis. He is sick. He is dying. And she continues to work, then come home every night to care for a sick, dying "child". Eventually, he died.
And I'm sorry; I thought it. I thought; Maybe now, she might get some rest. Maybe now, she might get some relief.
The remaining son stayed home, and continued to work when he felt like it, and continued pursuing whatever it was that made him happy. She continued to work, and she continued to smile, but when I saw her at her son's funeral, the sparkling light behind her eyes was gone, and her natural exuberance and energy were very depleted. Still, she kept trying; she tried to keep up the facade. She bounded around the gathering on the balls of her feet, trying to display the same energy, trying to play hostess and see to it that everyone had a drink or some food. I spoke with the reverend and looked curiously at the people who had come to attend this funeral; they were her son's friends, and realized I was feeling a deep hostility towards the entire lot of them, because no one else was bounding around, trying to please the masses, but her.
And you could see it; she didn't have her heart in it at all. She was defeated. But she did it anyway.
After the funeral, we ourselves felt some relief for her, thinking she might finally be able to have a more normal life. We all went on with our own lives for a a few months, only to find out through phone conversations that she had contracted hepatitis. She had caught it by tending to her ailing son.
The power and control she had was to see to it that no one else was hurt. She did that by providing her sons what they needed so they wouldn't go out and hurt anyone to pay for bad habits. She tended her sick son herself so no one else would catch his contagious disease. She tried to take all the wrongs of her life into herself, and this was her reward. For years of hard work, for smiling and lifting the spirits of those around her, for giving all her excessive and seemingly boundless energy to everyone and anyone around her. She lived her life doing hard, physical labor for others. This was her reward.
For months she continued to function; she continued to work until she collapsed. The doctors she worked for only realized how sick she was when she finally collapsed. But to their credit, they took action. They got her into the hospital and chose the best doctors they could, but by then, it was too late. Her employers came to visit her in the hospital and used what powers they had to get her moved up on the organ transplant list, but she was gone within weeks of us learning about it. She never told anyone she was unwell, because she didn't want to burden anyone with her troubles.
The funeral was all in one day. At the viewing, she laid in her coffin with her hands folded and her eyes closed, but she did not look serene and happy. She looked troubled, as if she had failed, because her work in this life was left unfinished. We all sat down in folding chairs and waited expectantly for someone to speak. Eventually, an in-law sitting in the front row rose up and spoke. She asked anyone who wanted to to please come forward and say their piece.
Slowly, hesitantly, the children of her employers came forward and tearfully told stories of how she had dried their tears and made them smile; how she had played with them and listened to their stories of pain and pathos over the years - the pain and pathos of wealthy children who knew nothing of hunger or domestic abuse. And she listened to them, dried their tears, and raised their spirits with her natural buoyant exuberance. All the while doing their laundry and cleaning their windows.
Then, another employer, the mother of one of these children, a doctor's wife, stepped forward and spoke politely of this woman's hardships and how she was aware of them. I could see her great admiration for the woman lying in that coffin; I could also see, behind her mask of politeness, her true opinion of that woman's flesh and blood kin.
I could see it, and felt ashamed. I was painfully aware of the fact that this funeral would never have happened at all if her employers had not paid for the majority of it. Her family couldn't afford the funeral and a collection was taken up among them. We all gave what we could. With the help from her employers, which was a lot, there was barely enough to pay for this tiny gathering, with no service, the opening of the grave vault, and putting her into the ground. To this day, she still has no headstone to mark her grave.
Not one of those blood kin got up and spoke on her behalf. And at the grave site, everyone gathered around her grave, and once again, the same in-law who had spoken first at the viewing spoke once more some awkward,last words over her grave. I could see it was hard for her to do it; both times she seemed to feel uncomfortable about facing an audience, but she stood up and did it.
She did it.
Afterward, the gathering dispersed, and we all went back to our everyday lives. It was over. Her life was over.
I've regretted the decision not to get up and say something that day at the viewing, but I don't know what I would have said. It might have been a beautiful tribute to her life. It might have caused a disruptive fist fight amongst the gathering.
I wanted to say she was the most giving, sweet person I had ever met in my life. I wanted to say she was a doormat. I wanted to say everyone had wiped their feet on that woman, and she had accepted it cheerfully her entire life. I wanted to say it was her own fault for not standing up for herself. I wanted to berate two healthy, strong young men who have lived 30 years of life being completely useless. But mostly I was sick to my stomach, and horrified; my whole life I have believed that what goes around will eventually come around. That hard work and perseverance will pay off in the end. That patience is a virtue.
At the end of your life, you are supposed to have a few years to relax and retire; to reap the rewards of all your hard work. Your children are supposed to care for you and respect you as an elder, you are supposed to bounce your grandkids on your knee and be surrounded by people who love you.
This woman, THIS woman, deserved so much more.
Her legacy left one son with no prospects, a small house, and a used car. She lies in an unmarked grave.
By my beliefs, none of this matters; over the course of millennium, all will be forgotten anyway. But right now it isn't forgotten. Right now it pains me. Right now it's a very familiar scenario.
What are we allowing ourselves to become? We are polite, we don't say what needs to be said. We are politically correct and don't address the issues that need to be addressed because we know these issues are our own faults. We created them, and so we try to handle them in pretty much the same way this woman did. In her, I see our whole country in miniature. People who work hard give everything in them that they have to give, and people who take it without hesitation, without any question; who feel it is their right.
There is no balance. The balance is gone. And I am horrified, completely horrified, that I will work and give of myself my whole life, and while I do not expect fame and fortune in return, wouldn't it be nice to know that someone at least appreciated and recognized what you tried to do, even if you failed?
This, I have written. A eulogy for one woman. Maybe for our country as well. I appreciated you, and recognized what it was you were trying to do. I will always remember you as one of the most amazing, selfless people I have ever had the opportunity to meet.
This is my perception of one life; this is my reality.