Family matters


We had “the talk” last Saturday, just Tony, Miss Cathy and me. Suemi decided to sit this one out, she was missed but she’s definitely a huge part of our “triangle of care”. It went surprisingly well and now I feel cautiously optimistic about the days ahead.

I was itching to get to the “real” talk as soon as we sat down in the living room but I was hard-pressed to think of a way to begin. Surprising I know, me, the guy that can talk to anybody about practically anything but not his time, I just sat there. I think part of the reason was that I was that I was just so keyed up after thinking about things for so long, and there’d been so much bad blood and tension lately that I didn’t know how to casually “kick“ off this discussion. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long because Tony jumped right in, started talking and like Jackie Gleason used to say, “…And away we go!”

We hadn’t “rehearsed” or even talked on the phone after Tony agreed with me that “the talk” was necessary so we each had no idea what the other was going to say. So, I sat there listening to him talk to her about his concerns and I was very impressed. He was firm but loving and his words seemed to be carefully considered and his tone was that of someone that knew what he was talking about so you felt reassured (even if he was talking to you about things that made you feel uncomfortable). I wondered if I come across that way or if I’m as cold and callus as I feel sometimes-I sure hope not. Lord knows I could learn a thing or two about “how to engage without antagonizing”, so I sat back and took a lesson. He talked about his feelings and his concern that she wasn’t fully accepting her condition. He also covered all of what needed to be said about some business and property matters as well as the issue of updating her will.

There was a little discussion back and forth (between Tony and I) as to who was going to do what (I volunteered to do most of the research and phone calling because, well, because that’s what I do). Anyway, Miss Cathy actually took a moment to tell us that she was having a problem accepting her diagnosis. She said that if she “felt” that she was sick she would know and she would “tell us” and then she’d accept help-ours or the doctors. But since she didn’t “feel” sick she couldn’t understand why we were treating her the way that we were. I told her that unfortunately a diagnosis like her’s didn’t work that way.

Then I started to launch into my laundry list of examples of her behavior that were clear signs of her illness, not to mention reminding her about all the doctors she’s seen and their findings. Interestingly, about half way through I stopped, told her I was sick of having to justify her illness to her “the same way” (remember the definition of insanity is “ doing the same thing over and over an expecting a different result”) so, I took a new approach.

I asked her, “Do you trust us to act in your best interest?”

She thought about it then she said simply, “Yes.”

“Good” I thought, that’s a start. With that vote of acceptance, it was time to get to some of the more unpleasant things that needed to be discussed. I talked about her anger and (hopefully for the last time) her being in denial about her condition and the problems that denial creates for all of us who are trying to help her.

I told her that I was surprised she hit me when I came to pick her up from Tony’s and I felt she owed me an apology. The look she gave me when I made my request was a mixture of “I have nothing to apologize for”, “I was totally within my rights” and “ I can’t believe that you’re questioning my actions”.

That’s what I ‘saw” anyway, and my interpretation of her expression was somewhat confirmed when she said that she was “pissed off” when I came pick her up and she thinks that as a parent she should get to do whatever she wants, that we are “her” children after all (Miss Cathy logic). I’m not quite sure but I think she was trying to tell us that she had a “right” as a “parent” to hit me?! Umm, I don’t think so.

I told her that she didn’t hit us growing up (other than the occasional “spanking” when we were very young and wouldn’t understand much else) so why on earth should it be acceptable now? Besides, hitting is not something I tolerate- not from anyone and that’s what I told her. And just because I’m not going to strike back, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stand for it either.

Tony jumped in after listening to her logic and reminded her that he’s a parent too and there are just some things you just don’t do-ever. He sat for a minute and pondered if he’d ever hit his kids and the answer was “no”, his children were now young adults and it would never cross his mind to touch either of them.

He also told her that he was angry with her for what she did “to his brother” and he could see that it was humiliating and hurtful to me, and that hurt him. I sat there and thought, “Wow, my big brother is standing up to “mom” for me.” I gotta tell you, that’s a funny feeling to have at fifty-two but it was endearing nonetheless.

She thought about it for a bit. We could see that she was seriously turning over all the information that was being presented to her. Finally she said that she could see where she was wrong, and that she would work on her temper, and then she turned, looked me full in the face and apologized to me.

I knew it took a lot for her to apologize and I knew it had to be incredibly difficult to listen to all we had to say, most of it negative and unpleasant bur she listened. One of the things that she said to us was that we didn’t understand because she was the “mother” and her role was to protect us. She’s said something similar to me (to us) before but this time I heard “something” different in what she was saying.

What I heard was that she was feeling that we were usurping her role as “parent” and if she didn’t have that “role” then who was she? How was she supposed to navigate through the life she has left if it’s not to be the one that “makes the decisions” and steers the course (for us).

I understand now that part of her resistance, rebelliousness and obstinacy was because she thought she had to fight for her role in the family, when in fact, her “role” is secure, it’s just how the players “act” that’s changed.

I told her she could relax, to take a good look at us-we’re both middle-aged men, that her “job” is done. I reminded her (as I have several times in the past) that this is all part of the circle of life and now it’s time for us to take care of her the way she took care of us. I said that no one was trying to take her place, she’d always be the matriarch of the family and that we bend over backwards to respect her and to make her feel loved, in fact, it was a testament to how she raised us that we’re doing what we’re doing now.

She said, “I see that now. I’m sorry for being rebellious but I think it comes from always being a parent and always being in control and not needing to be humble. But now, after this lengthy discussion I’ve decided that I’ll cooperate from now on. Conversation is a great thing, it helps you to think differently about a situation.”

“ I love you both very much and you two have always been first in my life, above everybody else. So, know that if I don’t act that way ,then ‘you know’ that I’m not in my “right” mind.”

“If you asked me to go to the moon, I’ll go. If you asked me to get on a space shuttle, I’ll get on it.”

All in all, I’d say that “the talk” went way better than I could have ever imagined. I looked out onto the balcony and could see that the afternoon was turning into early evening. It had been a “lengthy” discussion but well worth it. Just as I wondered to myself how we were going to wrap things up, Miss Cathy said, “ Okay, I’ll tell you like I tell Adele at the end of one of our looong conversations,“The End”.

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