Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Suppose You're Wondering....


As I mentioned in a previous post, I have another blog...a very private blog that is password protected with access given to a very small number of people I trust implicitly. The beginning of last April on that blog, I started a post entitled 'The Most Self-Destructive Person I Know." I had the title, but I never wrote the blog post, but even back in April I knew as some level we were headed toward exactly what we are going through today.

I even started this particular post on that private, password protected blog and was about half way through it when I remembered the words I wrote on my Facebook profile last week: Tonight I have realized that I have held my tongue in several situations so as not to offend 'family', but I am ashamed of my lack of forthrightness. No more.

Sunday night I received a message from one of my nieces that sort of sent me into a spiral. It reminded me all too well of why I completely severed my relationship with my sisters. Tom and I sat in our "cool tub" later that evening and as I cried and talked about my feelings and lack thereof for my sisters and my feelings for the nieces and nephews and what they've had to go through and what Tom calls "collateral damage", he stopped me. He took my shoulders and said, "You need to write about this. All of it, because that is what you do. You know the quote on your blog about writing? 'There's nothing to it. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.' That's you."

I started this blog in order to write about the truth...MY truth. I can't write the 'truth' here and the 'real truth' somewhere else and pretend that I am being forthright. My 'truth', of course, is from my perspective, but the facts are accurate. Someone could draw a different conclusion from their perspective. They are free to do so. If my truth makes me appear shallow, uncaring, bitchy, immature, neurotic, psychotic, or whatever, I have to be okay with that. If someone doesn't like "my truth" or thinks it is full of lies...well, I suggest they go write their own blog and stop reading this one.

The post below is copied from my private blog. It is my truth:

As you can imagine, it has been a turbulent weekend since we brought Karen home from the hospital. When Tom saw Karen sitting at the edge of the patio smoking a cigarette within a couple of hours of being released from the hospital after major vascular surgery, he was in complete disbelief and all he could say to her was, "Great choice, Karen." Her response? "so you need to spy on me?"

We were both in disbelief. All we could think of was: She wants people to care about her and be concerned for her well being, but why should anyone bother?? Why should we/they waste their energy and concern? She doesn't even care. The more I thought about all the texts and messages of concern from other family members and friends, the madder I got.

When Karen came back in the house, she went straight to her room without a mention of the short interaction she had with Tom. In complete frustration, Tom went to her room, stood in the doorway and tried to tell her how he felt about the choice she just made and what he thought it meant. She was sitting in the chair, focused on her computer screen. She didn't look up. She didn't respond. Tom finally gave up and came back into the living room.

A few minutes passed and I became more agitated and headed for her room. In complete frustration, I asked her why she would do what she did, then asked her the same questions we'd been thinking. She remained silent and focused on her computer screen. I called her a self-absorbed bitch and told her she didn't care about anyone but herself. Yep, I did it. And the only thing going through my head as I watched her sit there mute, motionless and unresponsive in front of that damn computer screen: Dammit, I did it again. I handed her yet another easy opportunity to never have to engage or interact with anyone....the damn internet.

When Karen moved in with us in 2009 after her boyfriend, Bob, died, I felt sorry for her and her loss. I wanted to make her as comfortable as possible. We set up our spare room for her and when I brought her back from Las Vegas, I arranged to have a television hookup installed in her room. And from November through the following May, her room was where she spent nearly every waking minute of every single day, lying on her bed watching television, often dozing off for nap a couple times of day. I didn't know if she was sick (she was taking most of the same medications she is taking now and popping nitro a couple of times a week) or grieving or both. I really didn't know what to make of it. If I was truly honest with myself, I'd have to admit that I should have known....I should have recognized it. But I didn't. I chose to ignore it. I excused it by telling myself that people grieve differently and this was her way of grieving...to isolate herself. I didn't know how to draw her out. Jesus, I hadn't seen her in 18 years. I had no idea who she was.

It was after Karen moved to Kingman and some time had passed that she started having more health issues, beginning last October: angina, 4 stents, then the mini-stroke and seizure. I felt the same way I felt about my mother when I saw her declined state and her living conditions in Las Vegas: Good Lord, what if she dies and no one knows and they find her days later when the odor of decomposition becomes strong enough to be detected outside her apartment??

I have a serious confession. I don't think I did things for the right reasons. I think in my effort to be very different, in fact opposite, from my parents and my sisters, I invited Karen to live with us more to feel better about myself than to help her, so I ignored every single hint leading up to that moment. There were two incidents that should have provided me with enough insight to make an informed decision. One small comment in passing and another major, very ugly event.

The first hint happened when I went to Las Vegas for Tony's (Kim's husband) funeral. My sister, Kim, was in chemotherapy. She, too, was dying of cancer. She was emaciated, on oxygen, lips swollen, weak and almost unable to stand up by herself. I saw her for the first time at Tony's funeral. Robin was walking in with her, almost holding her up. I was stunned by how frail she looked and taken aback by the almost sickening sweet odor of a very sick person.

Karen had volunteered to take Kim to and from chemotherapy each week. I was at Kim's house the day after Tony's funeral fixing her some lunch when Karen arrived to visit. She sat down next to Kim on the sofa and after a couple of minutes of conversation, Karen asked her when her next chemotherapy appointment was. Kim told her that she had to be at the doctor's office at 9:00am a couple of days later. Karen, stood up, shook her head and said in disgust, "Jesus, doesn't anyone ever make afternoon appointments? I don't usually get out of bed until noon!" I wanted to say, How can you be so insensitive? She just buried her husband! She has cancer, not you! You volunteered to do it! No one is twisting your arm! I wanted to slap her face. It took everything I had not to say a word.

The second more dramatic event should have been the biggest warning.

A month after her husband's death as her health declined, Kim was taken to the hospital. She was dying. I flew out to Las Vegas and Karen picked me up at the airport in a white compact car. "Did you get a new car?" I asked. No. It was Kim's. Kim gave her the keys to drive her to and from doctors and run errands for her.

We were driving to Kim's house, where Karen had apparently been staying. Karen said she had made arrangements for me to stay there, too. I asked her if she was sure it was okay because Tony's sisters and mother were staying at the house, too. Yes, she said. No problem.

When we arrived at the house and the door was locked and she tried to put the house key in the lock. It didn't work. She knew someone was home because all the cars were in the driveway. She knocked on the door. No answer. Then Karen said, "They've changed the damn locks! It's Phillip! (Tony's son from a previous marriage).

Karen was furious and started knocking on the door repeatedly. It was clear something was going on between Karen and Phillip, but I didn't know what. Before Tony's death, I hadn't seen Karen or Kim and her family since her kids were little. Now 'little' Kimmie was 20 and Tobey was 17.

I turned away from the door, grabbing the handle on my suitcase behind me, and said, "Can't I just stay at your house?" Karen said, "If you want to sleep with my three dogs." I said no I really didn't and asked if she would just take me to the hotel I stayed at the month before.

She said, "Kim gave me permission to be here. My stuff is in there. They will let me in."

God. I did not want or need any drama. I felt almost sick to my stomach. I did not want to be in the middle of some bull shit family thing. I took a deep breath. Karen continued knocking on the door and finally I saw a figure through the glass. Kimmie opened the door and her brother Phillip was standing next to her, blocking the doorway. Karen went ballistic, screaming how she had the right to be there, Kim was her sister, blah blah blah.

Kimmie, a 20 year old young woman who had just lost her dad to cancer the month before and whose mother was in the hospital dying of cancer, stood steadfast and tried to explain that she was trying to take control of things, that Karen had just bullied everyone and told them what they could do, where they could sleep, acting like the house was hers. She finished up by telling Karen that this was her mother's, hers, Tobey's and Phillip's house and while her mother was in the hospital, the house was their responsibility, not Karen's. Karen just started screaming at Phillip. I stood there aghast at what was happening. All I could see were these two grief stricken people defending their need to control the out-of-control world around them and Karen was screaming at them because they changed the locks.

I tried to step between Karen and the two in the doorway. Over and over I said to Karen, "Stop Karen. Please stop. Calm down!" Finally, completely exasperated, I said, "Please take me back to the airport. I can't do this," and I turned away and headed back to the car, pulling my suitcase behind me. Karen was still at the doorway, yelling.

I was already at the curb, putting my suitcase back in the car when Karen finally followed my lead. I was crying as I opened the door and sat down in the passenger seat. Phillip came to my window and I rolled it down.

I looked at him and said, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you had to go through that."

He touched my arm and said, "You can come in and stay. She cannot."

I told him I thought I should just go to the airport, that I didn't want to be in the middle of something like this. He said, "It's over. You are welcome to stay." Karen sat in the drivers seat and continued to rant, but in a lower tone, with no one responding.

I sat there for a second thinking, Would Karen think I was being disloyal to her if I stayed with them? Why should I care what she thinks? I'm not here just for her. I'm here for Kim, Kimmie, Tobey, Phillip and me, too. I'm here to offer my support to whomever needs it the most.

I wanted to stay and see Kim for one last time. I looked at Phillip again and touched his hand. "Are you sure it's okay?" He opened my door, then went to the back and pulled out my suitcase. As I closed the door behind me, I said, "Sorry Karen." She replied, "I will not go to the hospital when Phillip is there." I said, "You have to do what you have to do."

She held true to her word. She never came to the hospital when anyone else was in the room with Kim. Because of it she was not present when the nurse removed all the tubes except the IV and Kim became quite lucid one last time. And she was not present when Kim passed. She missed the beautiful bedside memorial given by Tony's sister, Kim's sister-in-law. She missed it all because of her anger over her 'rights' as Kim's sister and her martyrdom.

What does that say about me? I completely ignored the clues. They were there. Clear as daylight.

Back in the 1980's I was seeing a therapist periodically. It was during the time when my sister's ex-husband had filed for sole custody of their two children. Tom and I had talked to him on the phone several times, relating some very horrifying incidents that we thought he should know about. He asked if he filed for sole custody, would we testify on his behalf. We agreed to do so. The rest of the family stood behind my sister and I was furious. I felt like they were all abandoning the well being of her children to hide the shame of my sister's alcoholism. What disgusted me further was my father's completely selfish attitude: If their dad got custody, he and my mother would actually have to fly across country to see their own grandchildren.

I spent several sessions talking with Mary, my therapist, about my family, our dysfunctional interactions, the continued combativeness and constant drama and I was finally ready to consider the idea of severing ties with my parents and siblings. Every time there was a new drama, I'd allow myself to be drawn in, take sides and my life would be in complete upheaval, but then who was going to be an advocate for the children? If I severed ties, would I not be abandoning them, too?

The court date came and went. Prior to the court date, the social worker called me on only one occasion. I never heard from her after that. We were never called as witnesses. I can only surmise that the rest of the family/witnesses were able to convince her that we were the 'wackos' of the family and our version should not be trusted. My ex-brother-in-law, one of the kindest, funniest, nicest men I have ever known, the man whose only desire was to provide a loving and stable home for his children, lost his custody fight. The children remained in Mexico with their mother, who merely continued her downward spiral.

In my next therapy session, I told Mary the news. I was still ambivalent as to whether to cut ties. Mary said, "Terri, I'm going to give you some advice...and I don't ever give advice. Just be very careful what you step back into." She knew I wasn't strong enough, and until I was, I would always allow myself to be sucked in. To this day, obviously this is one of my biggest weaknesses.

Not only have I held my tongue, but I have stepped back into it all over again. If nothing else, I have learned that I'm still not strong enough and I may never be. Acknowledging that, I really have only one choice left.

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