Dysfunctional as the new normal.

(This was started several months ago, maybe June. I couldn’t post it then – I was still too close to it. I’ve added more today, on the occasion of a second called meeting. I’m sitting this one out.)

We are going to a called meeting. I’m writing this in the car on the way to a meeting that my parents in law have requested. My husband’s mother is dying slowly of pancreatic cancer. She is in her 70’s. She’s already lived longer with this disease than the doctors expected. She has already lived longer than my Mom, who died at 53.

I feel like we are going to a discussion about putting down the family pet.

It has been months since the last family meeting. There hasn’t been a lot of communication since Christmas, when we found out. That Christmas was more strained and fake than normal. We all pretended like everything was fine. It reminded me a lot of how my birth family acted at every holiday.

Pancreatic cancer takes a toll on you. It is debilitating. It has an over 90% death rate, mostly because it isn’t caught until it is very advanced. We don’t know. Perhaps there was a healing. Or perhaps they have finally woken up to the reality of the situation and realized they need to go into assisted living.

At Easter, my mother in law did all the cooking. My father in law sat. He directed traffic. This is a role reversal from when I met them ten years ago. She had to take on more of the chores since he got Parkinson’s. He seems to see getting Parkinson’s as an excuse to sit all the time. Sure, Parkinson’s is a degenerative nerve disease. But if you don’t exercise, Parkinson’s or no, you’ll deteriorate.

None of us have the time or patience or time off at work to go over there all the time and cook and clean and bathe them. Nor do we want to.

I sure wish I knew about all the mental and physical abuse that happened in this family before I suggested they move up here. I wouldn’t have suggested that they move closer. It seemed logical at the time. They were getting older. They kept taking turns needing help, what with cancer twice for him and a hip replacement for her. She freaked out when the water heater broke when her husband was out of town. One son had to drive 5 hours one way to deal with it. This is not the hallmark of adult behavior on her part.

They need help, certainly, but we aren’t the ones to give it. We don’t have the resources – mental, physical, emotional.

I didn’t know them before. Perhaps they have gotten more feeble with age. Perhaps they have always been dependent. Perhaps they have always been needy. Perhaps they have always been weak.

I want this to go well. I don’t know what to do. I want to be helpful. I want to be compassionate.

But I also want to say “I told you so.” I want to say “if only you had listened to me and gotten an apartment instead of a house, rented rather than bought, this would be easier.” I’m angry that they want our help but they don’t want to listen to what we are willing and able to provide. They want our help but they want it their way.

I want to say if you’d been nicer to your children, they wouldn’t be reluctant to help you. You reap what you sow.

This isn’t Christ-like at all. I don’t pretend it is. It is very human. Is it compassionate to enable someone in their stupidity?

This could go well. It could go terribly. Bracing for it usually makes it go worse. I’m trying to plan ahead and be realistic. I’m trying to be honest with myself.

Nothing digs up old family wounds like new family trauma. It is so easy to forget there is a problem until it comes back up again. Yep. That bone is still broken. Time to get it looked at by a professional, or amputate that limb. Time to get professional counseling or decide to walk away from it all.

Just because I married the son doesn’t mean I have to take care of his parents. There is nothing in the wedding vows about them. I’m not legally bound to them.

I’m angry at them because of all the damage they did to him. Sure, they were probably abused themselves. Dysfunctional is the new normal after all. Does this get them off the hook? Does this mean I have to take time off from work to take care of them? I spend enough time as it is picking up the pieces of their son’s shattered self esteem.

I’m angry that my father in law still thinks it is OK to talk badly about his son. He has never apologized for abusing his family. He has never changed, really. He’s just sneakier about his abuse.

I’m angry that my mother in law is dying and the only thing she wants to do is decorate her house. Scraping wallpaper, painting, and remodeling is the order of the day. From what I understand this is how she has always done things. Knowing she is terminally ill has not changed her, has not focused her. She has not done anything for her community or the world. I cannot imagine wasting life so wantonly. I’m frustrated that she has had more life than my Mom and still hasn’t done anything with it.

I’m angry that both of them have lived this long and they are still not grown up.

I’m not a counselor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a minister. I know I can’t fix other people’s problems. I can only work on myself. I know that looking away from problems doesn’t make them go away. I know also that it is the better part of valor to know when you can’t do anything. Sometimes you have to admit defeat. I’ve tried to help them and they are still stuck, so I’m not what they need. They think I am, but the evidence proves otherwise.

I have chosen to walk away from this insanity. I can’t let someone else’s madness pull me into the water where I’ll drown. Codependency is deadly.

I’ve walked away for the same reason I no longer read the news. I’ve walked away from same reason I no longer watch television or eat junk food or drink sodas. I can’t allow this poison into me. I know what it does.

Now, a mark of a Christian is that they are supposed to be able to be bitten by a snake and not get sick. To me, it makes more sense to not even pick up that snake to start off with.

Jesus fish.

I have a new doctor who is Christian. I’d love to recommend him to my boss, but she is aggressively anti-Christian. She thinks Christians are kind of like zombies – brainless. She has mentioned that she will walk out of a place if she sees any Christian signs, like a cross or a Jesus fish. He would be able to help her a lot, but I know that she would feel uncomfortable getting help from him.

I know of two people who wanted to join a gym, but they wouldn’t join the YMCA. They felt like they would be proselytized to. One was Jewish and one was Jehovah’s Witness. I’m a member of the Y and while people feel comfortable talking about God and Jesus while they are there, they don’t push it on others. Even at the Y people are careful to make sure people are on the same wavelength. Sure, there are quotes from the Bible on the walls. Sure, the shirts mention Jesus. But it is no more than you’d see at the mall, and they don’t preach to you or try to convert you. They try to serve you as Jesus would, and Jesus wasn’t pushy. If you wanted to come to him, he was there for you. He never forced himself on people.

But then there are places that use Christian signs to get business, but they aren’t nice people. I once got a roofing estimate from a place called “Genesis roofing” that had a Bible quote on their truck. The salesman was indifferent. He talked down to me. He went up on the roof and then left without saying anything. It was strange. It certainly wasn’t what I expected of a place that advertised itself as Christian. I wrote them, saying as much, and they never responded.

I think it is closed-minded to refuse to do business with a company or person just because they say they are Christian. I also think it is closed-minded to only do business with Christian companies or people. There has to be some level of balance and trust and openness.

We can’t let fear of “the other” stop us from living our lives.

I choose…

I choose to release my old way of thinking.

I choose to trust that God is leading me on the right path.

I choose to allow God to work in my life.

I choose to no longer define things as good or bad.

I choose to be patient with the process.

I choose to not put parameters on my path.

I choose to believe that God can use me as I am, right where I am – and to embrace that God might transform my life into something totally unexpected.

I choose to not resist God’s will.

I can see a book deal and traveling in my future.
I can see having time to volunteer more.
I can see me healing people with words that I share.

I am grateful that God has planted this seed within me.

I choose to nurture this seed.

I choose to be patient, no longer defining situations as good or bad, and no longer needed to see the outcome to trust the path.

I choose to believe that God is leading me, and that I have the ability to follow God on this path.

“The Prodigal Son”

There is nothing like a will to bring out the true side of people. My brother was left out of our Dad’s will because he tried to kill Dad when he was 17. They never reconciled. There was nothing but mistrust and animosity after that.

It wasn’t great before that. They’d never had a good relationship. Ian blamed Dad for the fact that he didn’t have money to go to college. Dad’s story was that Ian begged him for the money so he could buy a car. Because of Ian’s lifelong habit of lying to benefit himself, I believe Dad’s side of the story.

Ian felt slighted most of his life. He probably feels this way now, but I no longer talk to him. He felt that everything bad happened to him, that everyone, (especially me) conspired against him. He felt that I was the wanted child and he was the accident. He didn’t realize that we both had a pretty unhealthy childhood, so neither one of us got the silver spoon. We both got the shaft instead.

He blamed me for his fourth wife leaving him. He blamed me for him getting a quarter of a million dollars in debt. He was always a victim, a bystander, a passive observer. Perhaps that is the reason for all of his failures – he never took the blame for anything.

We were still talking when our parents died. He’d been very abusive to me during that time, but I still wanted to have some sort of relationship with him. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Christian guilt, saying that I was supposed to love my brother. I didn’t understand yet that there has to be a measure of reciprocity. Love has to go both ways. It can’t all be take-take-take.

During that time he managed to guilt-trip me out of a Rembrandt etching we had of “The Prodigal Son” saying that it symbolized the relationship that he and Dad had. The irony did not escape me. They didn’t have a relationship.

Our grandmother had given the etching to the family. It sat over the mantle. The story was that Rembrandt created the etching, printed a limited number of prints, and then destroyed the plate with acid. So it was worth a lot of money. It wasn’t listed in the will, specifically, so I could do with it whatever I wanted. I was the executrix of the estate because I was the only person named in the will who was still alive. I was 25, handling a will on my own, getting pressured by my brother. He wanted me to sell the house (my home at that point) and give him half the money. He wanted me to give him half the insurance money too. He’d done nothing to earn it. He hadn’t visited and he hadn’t helped Mom and I while we were struggling with bills when she was sick. He hadn’t done anything at all except harass me to tell me that I wasn’t doing enough. Meanwhile he was doing nothing. So how did he think he was entitled to any of the estate, especially an etching of “The Prodigal Son”?

I gave the etching to him anyway, out of spite. I figured that eventually he’d wake up to the fact that the son has to return for the story to work, and he never returned. It was easier to give him that picture once I realized that. If I’d kept it I would be constantly reminded of him. If he had it, he would be constantly reminded of himself. That specific etching just bolsters his lies. It is right up there with the certificates he has framed of the classes he took when he was in the Air Force. He was only in for one year, then he got kicked out. But he still proudly displays those certificates. There is something deeply wrong going on with him, where his reality doesn’t mesh up with actual reality.

I wanted my brother to become a real human being. I still want him to. I finally realized that I couldn’t be part of that process though. It was like he wanted me to be an accessory to his insanity. I couldn’t participate in it. Talking to him was making me crazy because he was crazy. Getting into conversations with him was like getting in the car with a drunk behind the wheel. Everywhere we went in our conversations was wrong. I knew I had to get out for my own safety.

There aren’t any easy instructions on how to deal with an abusive family. All the Hallmark movies make us think that families are loving and brothers look out for their little sisters. All the mythology of family in American society tells us that everything is wonderful and everybody is happy. This is great when it is true, and it is harmful when it isn’t. All too often our reality doesn’t mesh up with what we are told we should be experiencing, and we feel pain. We feel like we are wrong, and not that the prepackaged image of “happy family” is wrong.