Death, or not.

My mother-in-law is dying. Or isn’t.

She has pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed in December of last year. It was stage three, possibly stage four. There is no stage five. She was given until about May. It is now late December. We are planning to have Thanksgiving at her house. We are talking about having Christmas this year too.

A year ago, just thinking about how that particular Christmas was going to be her last Christmas just tore her up. She was very teary. She didn’t think she’d even make it to another birthday, which was in November. She’s made it, and made it better than anybody expected. She’s still driving herself to her doctor’s appointments. She’s still at home, sleeping in her own bed. Hospice has not been called.

The trouble is, she has changed personality, and it really isn’t for the better. She was married young, and married to a very domineering man. She was very submissive. Her own personality was overshadowed by his. She grew up stunted, with all her energy being focused on one thing – the house.

She has spent her entire adult life playing house. She paints the rooms, again and again. She redecorates. She buys knickknacks. Decorating the house is all she talks about. All of her energy has gone into decorating her house. The results aren’t anything exciting. It is hard to believe her life energy has been spent in this way and there isn’t anything real to show for it. It is hard to believe that God put her on this earth to do this.

So she now has become assertive. She still works on the house, but she has gone from being passive to being pushy. She uses the fact that she has pancreatic cancer to push people around. She has cancer, so nobody else’s plans matter. Everyone else has to drop whatever they are doing and drive over and visit with her or do her bidding. She doesn’t ask, she commands. The fact that she has a limited lifespan is always part of it. You’d better do this, or else.

Or else what? She’ll die? You’ll feel guilty that you didn’t spend more time with her?

While I’m glad that she is starting to wake up to who she is, I wish she’d have gotten past the toddler stage a little sooner in life. Toddlers are always about me me me, and they never care about anybody else’s feelings or plans.

The problem is, she is in her 70s. She has had plenty of time to grow up, and she hasn’t. She has had plenty of time to be a productive person, and she hasn’t.

We all are dying. Being born is the beginning of death. None of us have any guarantees on how long we will live.

So there is nothing especially sad about a 70-plus year old woman getting cancer, even cancer that has a high rate of death. Death comes to us all. Many people don’t make it to her age.

What is tragic is that she didn’t wake up to the fact of her mortality sooner and do something useful with her life. What is tragic is that she didn’t stand up to her abusive, bullying husband earlier and leave him, taking their two sons with her. That would have saved them from years of being harmed in every way possible. What is tragic is that she is treating this time as a time to push other people around, when life isn’t ever about that. What is tragic is that when told she had cancer, she kept on decorating her house.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong. Or maybe I’m not. I’m angry at her acting hurt and put upon that she has a death sentence, when my own Mom died at 53. My mother in law has lived nearly 20 years longer than my Mom, and has nothing to show for it. My Mom volunteered all the time. She made the world better for other people. She wasn’t well educated, but she had an open heart and gave constantly. This woman, however, is a little child in an adult’s body.

I’m tired of her. I’m tired of her neediness. I’m tired of how shallow she is.

And I’m sick of myself for feeling this way. It isn’t very Christ-like. It isn’t very nice.

I wish she would have protected her son, my husband, when he was a child. To stand by while your child is being abused is to condone it. I don’t think she understands the depth of damage that caused. I don’t think she understood that her inaction was just as abusive because it translates to abandonment.

I wish she would have grown up sooner. I wish that she would have woken up to the truth of her mortality sooner. I wish that she would have become a human being sooner.

I guess late is better than never, but it still isn’t happening. She’s not blooming very well. She’s stunted and warped from her life, the life that she chose. There is nothing passive about this. She chose to marry him. She chose to continue to live with him. She chose to raise two boys when she herself was still a child. She chose to do what everybody else did rather than think for herself.

She chose to stay asleep.

She’s mirroring what she has seen her whole adult life, living with her husband. Her role model is a self-centered man who beats up on anyone he finds weaker than him. So she is blooming into a self-centered woman who pushes everybody around and expects them to drop whatever they are doing to take care of her.

God help us all.

Tidy

I am a neatnik. My husband is a cluttermonster. God has a sense of humor.

While I feel that our small house has too much stuff in it, I also feel uncomfortable in a too tidy house. When I go over to a person’s house and there is nothing on the floor or nothing on the bathroom counter I begin to wonder. Do they really live there? Did they throw everything in the basement? Did they rent a storage unit just for this occasion?

I wonder if I have too much stuff or they are just better at hiding it.

When my mother in law first came over to our home, she actually said “Have you thought about getting a larger house?” This is one of those times where I got really angry yet somehow found the right thing to say. I answered “No, we’ve thought about getting less stuff.”

She should know better. She married a cluttermonster. My husband learned from him. She knows where this madness comes from. She’s lived with it for over 40 years.

I wanted to say “Hasn’t anyone taught you not to say everything you think?”

On self-sufficiency and faith.

When I was young my Mom taught me how to sew using the sewing machine. It was a finicky one and the bobbin kept messing up, or the feed dog would get jammed, or the thread would break. I would ask for help and my Mom would fix the problem. The bad part however is that she didn’t show me how to fix the problem myself.

Years later, after she had died, I wanted to sew something and I still didn’t know how to fix it when something didn’t work right. I fooled around with the machine but it wasn’t budging. I decided to buy a used machine that was simple to operate and had an instruction manual with pictures. I learned how to use it and wondered why my Mom never thought to teach me how to do this myself. It was really easy to do. By hiding it from me, she made it seem like it was something special that only she could do.

It seems to me that part of the job of being a parent is to teach their children to be self sufficient. If they still needing your help to fix things when they are adults then that is a bad reflection on the parent.

I’ve encountered the same attitude from church. I’m hopeful that all churches aren’t like this, in the same way that all parents aren’t like mine. But my experience over all of my life has been that in every church I’ve gone to, the minister has treated me as a passive observer in my faith life. They have acted as if the life of faith is something that happens to you, rather than something you do.

Then I started going to a spiritual director. She has been to seminary, but she isn’t ordained. She is like a personal trainer for the soul. If the journey of faith uses a car, not only is she teaching me to drive, she is teaching me how to find the tools and repair it myself. Meanwhile, all the ministers I’ve ever been lead by have treated me like I was a passenger. They didn’t teach me how to drive. They didn’t even let me know I could.

It is a little overwhelming. I feel like I’m late to the party. I feel like I should have known this all along. This is part of the purpose of my blog – to let you know that you too have the right to drive this car of faith. I describe tools to you as I come across them.

Imagine how powerful the body of Christ will be when we all wake up to our true potential and realize we aren’t passive observers.

Plants and problems.

Why do people insist on giving me plants? They give me live plants and I don’t know how to take care of them and they die. Then I feel bad.

But I shouldn’t. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. I didn’t want it.

It reminds me of when my parents died. People gave me azaleas as “living memorials” to them. I planted them in the back yard. Nobody had a clue that both parents would die so close together. So I got two azalea plants within two months, from different people.

I moved a few years later. Then I had a dilemma. Do I take the plants? I couldn’t, because I was moving into an apartment. So they might still be there in the yard, serving as a mute memorial to someone the new owners don’t even know.

My brother gave me a lily plant after our mom died. Well, he didn’t give it to me. He gave it to the house. I’d never planted a lily before so I asked a friend who was in the landscape business. It turns out that you don’t just plant lilies. You have to dig them up every fall and store the bulbs in a cool dark dry place over the winter and then replant them in the spring. I just spent a year watching my mother die. I wasn’t prepared to spend any more time watching a “living memorial” to her die.

I took it as yet another thoughtless thing from my brother. I took the plant out the front door, walked down to the ivy at the edge of the yard and pitched the plant. I said “good luck, lily”. I had nothing against the plant. The plant was beautiful. But I didn’t want to be responsible for its demise. Its survival was up to it and God at that point. It honestly had a better chance of surviving that way.

I was given a Christmas cactus as a gift for volunteering in a school. It died in short order. Those are supposed to be very hardy. I was recently given a miniature rose bush. I suspect it will shortly follow the cactus to the plant graveyard.

I get it. A living plant has more meaning than cut flowers. It will last longer and provide more joy over the years. But I just don’t know how to handle them. Either I water them too much or too little. Then I don’t know how to feed them. I pay attention to them for about a week and then I forget them.

I’m starting to think of everything the same way I think of plants. If someone gives me anything and I didn’t want it or ask for it, I am not obliged to take it. This applies to feelings, ideas, and ideologies. People try to give me their baggage all the time. Perhaps you know what I am talking about.

It is part of why I no longer watch TV.

I don’t want to be dragged down by someone else’s fear and pain. I can’t handle it. I don’t want it. I’m not tall enough for it. It is like I’m swimming in the ocean and someone comes along and they are drowning. They thrash about, and they grab me and start to pull me down. I can barely keep myself afloat on a normal day. When someone tries to unburden themselves on me and I’m not ready for it I start to go under along with them.

It reminds me of one time at work. There is a lady who constantly is complaining. She huffs and stomps around. She gossips. She never has anything good to say. I realized that she was dragging me down into her hole, and listening to her wasn’t helping her and was actually harming me. When I realized this, I prepared to stand up to her and braced myself for her reaction. So when she came up to me one day and asked if I minded hearing the latest gossip/complaint, I said that yes, I do mind. That no, I don’t want to hear it. That I was tired of it. She was stunned. She was angry. She said that she needed to vent. I said that I didn’t need to be the person she vented to.

She needs a therapist. She needs a friend. She needs a life outside of work so she can get a sense of perspective. I can’t provide these things. This is her journey.
The best thing I could do was say no, I can’t take this. I’m not the person for it.

I think there is a lot of healing in knowing what you can take and what you can’t take.

We want to be everything for everyone. We want to help them and heal them. But we aren’t trained and we aren’t able to all the time. I think the healthiest thing is to only take what you can handle, and that is only what you are ready for.

“While you’re up…”

When I was growing up, I thought “While you’re up” was my father’s name for me.

He sat. A lot. He sat so much that he got a new recliner every few years or so. I got the box.

I loved getting those boxes. I could make a house out of them, and did. I would drag the box down under the porch where the dog sheltered. I cut out windows and I drew in art on the walls. I spent as much time in that box as I was allowed. When I wasn’t in school or in bed, I was there. Until the box rotted from the exposure to the elements, that was my home away from home.

The more I think about my childhood, the more I understand why I escaped so much.

But I digress.

My Dad would sit in that recliner, staring at the TV, seemingly waiting for me to get up so he could ask me to get something for him. More coffee. Wash his glasses. A snack. Whatever. He never did any of these things for himself. He didn’t even know how to put a band-aid on himself.

How he managed to survive to adulthood escapes me.

Meanwhile he gained more and more weight, and smoked more and more cigarettes.

He said “while you’re up” until the day I stood my ground. I’d sprained my ankle, and was hopping around. Everywhere I went, I hopped. I was a teenager by this point, so I’d had a few years of getting used to this phrase.

I wanted a glass of lemonade, and I had sat for quite a while figuring out how I could get it from the kitchen to the living room with a minimum of mess. Once I decided on getting half a cup, and in a plastic cup, not a glass, I was set. Then I thought about it a little more.

I braced myself. I knew, deep down, like how the shore knows the tide will come in, that my father would say those inevitable words, those fateful words. I knew all the way down to my core that he would be totally oblivious to the fact that I couldn’t walk and everything was that much harder. I knew that he wouldn’t say “Oh, let me help you – what do you need?” That makes me laugh just thinking about that. I would have known that aliens had possessed my Dad if he had said that.

I prepared for that eventuality with the same planning I’d used to figure out how I was going to get a glass of lemonade while hopping.

I got up. Payoff. He said it. “While you’re up…”

And I let him have it. I let him know about how insensitive he was. I let him know that he could very well get up and get his own whatever-it-was. I probably put in something about how it would do him some good to get up and move every now and then.

He never asked me again.

Yes, children should respect their parents. But parents also need to respect their children, and teach them through their actions about self-respect and discipline and fortitude. Sure, there is a Commandment saying that children should honor their mother and father. But there is also Jesus saying that we need to love each other. There is nothing loving about using your child as a servant. There is nothing loving about expecting someone else to do everything for you.

In fact, being an enabler isn’t being loving at all.

Kay and Jane – on saying no.

There were two ladies, Kay and Jane. Kay had been working on a project most of the day at a large table. This table was rarely used during the day. It was primarily used in the morning and in the evening. Jane had seen Kay working on this project all day, and had seen how involved it was. There were many pieces of paper and many folders to sort them into. As the evening came, it came to be the time when Jane would normally use that table. There were other tables that could be used, but they didn’t have quite as much surface area. Kay asked Jane if it was OK if she used one of those other tables for her (Jane’s) project.

Jane said OK. She took her project over to another table and did it. It took 20 minutes.

Then she complained to Brenda, afterwards. “If I wasn’t so tired, I would have told her no, move!”

But she didn’t. She held the resentment in.

Important to this story is that Kay and Jane have had extreme difficulty talking to each other for many years. Jane is Kay’s supervisor, but feels that Kay does whatever she wants. In a way this is true. Kay doesn’t ask for permission to do a new project – she tells Jane she is going to do.

Also, both were raised in abusive homes where they were not taught about proper boundaries.

So who is in the wrong? Kay for not seeing that Jane would want to use that large table that she was working at? Kay could have finished her project earlier, or moved it.

Or Jane? Jane could have said, “No, that is a problem and I’d rather use that table”. Or Jane could have noticed an hour earlier how long and involved this project was and advised Kay that she would like to use that table at 7.

It was a big project, certainly. It was very involved, and would have wasted a lot of time to move.

My take? Jane was in the wrong. Kay asked if it was OK, and Jane agreed. It is immature to acquiesce to something that you aren’t willing to acquiesce to. You have to stand up for yourself – because honestly nobody else is going to. Also, the other tables were certainly usable. They weren’t ideal, but they weren’t terrible either. It was more of an inconvenience to Kay to move than for Jane to move.

The funny/sad part is that even if Kay had not asked Jane if it was OK for her to stay where she was and for Jane to use another table, Jane would have been upset. Jane is like that. And she would have complained to Brenda, who has no control over the situation. Venting to a third party never fixes the problem, and only brings the third party into your own personal mess.

I once read a great story about two guys who were trying to figure out what they were going to do that weekend. Bob asked Frank if he wanted to go fishing. Frank didn’t really want to go fishing, but thought that Bob wanted to go, so he said OK. Turns out that Bob didn’t want to fish either, he thought Frank did. So they both went fishing, and they both were miserable. It would have been great if they both had been honest. They could have had a really good time together if they hadn’t spent so much time trying to second-guess what each other wants.

I had a friend who stopped by my work one day. I asked her if she wanted to go to a frozen yogurt place for a little bit as I was about to get off of work. She said no, and said we’d need to arrange something later. A coworker thought this was very rude. It isn’t. She had other plans then that I didn’t know about. She was about to go out to supper with her husband. Also, she didn’t like to eat frozen yogurt right before a meal – both things that I didn’t know. She was taking her needs into consideration.

I’d rather her say no than say yes and feel resentful.

To agree to something just to make somebody else happy isn’t honest. If your agreeing to it harms you or is an inconvenience to you, then you have to speak up. If two people are involved in a situation, both people’s needs have to be met. Sometimes a compromise is involved. Sometimes neither party will get her way and nothing happens at all.

It is difficult to say no. We are taught to be people-pleasers. We are taught to keep the peace. But it is very important that we don’t become doormats.
Better to say no and feel guilty than to say yes and feel resentful.

It helps to analyze why you feel guilty to say no. Were you taught this by your parents or teachers? Were you taught that to speak your mind was bad? Were you taught that to stand up for yourself is bad? Perhaps they taught you this way because their parents or teachers taught them the same thing. Perhaps they feel a need to control others they feel are lesser than them.

Be a good little girl, and finish your meal.
(But you are full)

Don’t talk back.
(But what they are asking you to do is wrong)

Don’t marry this guy, he’s not the same race as you.
(But we love each other)

Don’t be friends with her, she’s lower class.
(But the upper class girls are rude.)

Awaken.
Awaken.
Awaken.