Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It's no secret that I've always adored my father.

I looked up to him, I respected his opinion, I continuously sought his approval, and I longed to be like him - intelligent, educated, cultured. During my childhood, whenever my mother went into one of her rages (screaming obscenities, throwing things, crying) I would turn to my father in fear, who would reassure me that my mother was simply crazy and displaying an irrational psychotic reaction likely due to her pent up rage and sadness at being abused so often by so many prior to her life with him. He would say this in a cold and clinical manner directly in front of her, which would fuel her rage further. He treated me as though we were equals; both doctors manning the asylum. It was definitely inappropriate and dysfunctional to speak about my mother in this way to a child, but I think it was his attempt to lessen the scarring of the verbal abuse pouring out of my mother's mouth.

As a child, when I asked my father why he didn't leave my mother he told me he was trapped because he had made the mistake of leaving a woman before and the courts always give custody to the mother. He said he would never abandon a child again. (It wasn't until I was older that I learned from my half-siblings the details of his selfish abandonment of them and the true cost to their well being). So in this way I grew up feeling as if it were my fault he was forced to endure my mother. (Of course after I became an adult he never left her). While I suspect other kids dreamed about innocent childhood wishes regarding toys and special privileges, I often dreamt of my mother's untimely death due to car accident or illness which would free us. In my scenario my father would then remarry my best friend's mom and we'd be sisters. Just as often as I'd envision these ideas, the guilt would well up inside of me and I'd hate myself for thinking such things.

Despite my growth into adulthood, I continued to wrestle with my feelings of anger and guilt toward my mother. I had many long conversations with her and came to understand the horrific experiences she lived through that shaped her world and encouraged her behavior. This only increased my guilt when the familiar untimely death wishes cropped up from time to time (usually when she was hurling obscenities my way). I solved the problem the only way I knew how- I moved far from home and rarely visited. But I always missed my father. Despite his hurtful comments (that I never measured up to my potential, that he regrets having all of his children because we were a waste of his time and money) I never grew angry at my father in the way my fury simmered against my mother. Even now, understanding that his love-deprived childhood (raised by uncaring nannies while his parents travelled the world and ignored him) is no excuse for his selfish and destructive criticism I can't muster anger. I just simply love him and still seek his approval.

Now that my parents are elderly and have moved here so that I may care for them, the dynamic has changed little. I still adore my father, whose mind is slowly slipping from him as his sentences repeat, his criticisms become rare, and his expressions of love and need for reassurance are frequent. My mother is just as difficult as she ever was. Loud, constantly negative and angry at the world, and very sickly (mostly due to her own poor stewardship of her body), it wears me down. It makes me angry.

Today she was rushed to the hospital with extremely poor vitals- out of control blood sugar, high blood pressure, and constant vomiting. I left work early and rushed to the hospital. When I arrived the nurse was reminding her that her lifetime of poor eating (completely ignoring the diabetic diet for example) was a big factor in her frequent illness. I felt a twinge of fear thinking of my own poor eating habits and anger at her selfishness in eating whatever she felt like instead of what's best for her. I vowed silently again right there in the E.R. to exercise more and watch my nutrition. I would not be like her. I would not!

Then I went downstairs to the hospital café and ate two candy bars. And I cried for both of us.

A few hours and endless tests later it turns out the culprit behind her vitals was her disregard for following her medicine regime in the face of a stomach flu. She simply stopped taking ALL of her meds (insulin, blood pressure meds, heart meds, etc) cold turkey Monday morning because her stomach hurt and she was tired of vomiting whenever she ate or drank anything. No call to the doctor for guidance (nor to me), no thought to the consequences, nothing. I was furious when I heard the news and though I tried to hide it I'm sure she could see it in my eyes. My patience wears so thin with her and I feel so guilty over that. Seems I've inherited my father's selfishness. She made a self-pitying comment about how hard it would be on Dad if she died in the hospital and how hard it would be on us to take care of Dad alone. Really Mom? Because I think it would be a piece of cake to take care of Dad compared to you. While she threw her tantrum in the hospital yelling at the nurses who didn't bring her a blanket fast enough, throwing her plastic spoon on the floor because she wanted to go home all I could think of was how if she hates life so much and can find no joy here maybe she could just quietly die and make it easier for all of us. And then horrified at my own evil I squashed those thoughts down deep and replaced them with equal parts guilt and self-loathing.

I am so weary. What can God teach me from these times with my mother? How can I move beyond my own selfishness and anger? How can I be the kind of daughter that truly loves her mother and honors her as God commanded?

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