A friend of mine is going through a helluva rough time lately. Family crisis, followed by she and her siblings bailing a parent out of… well, years of fucking up, frankly. And after the crisis is over, there will be, shall we say, “maintenance”, probably for the remainder of the parent’s life. In addition, the other parent’s shit is no more together, and after retirement, the burden of that parent’s support will also fall to the kids. Whee…
So when my friend let off a little steam and vented to the WNET girls, I clamped my mouth shut (rare, I know). Because the more I read of her post, the higher the pressure in my brain went. She’s living my 2005. She’s fixing some of the same problems I helped my brother fix. And yet, I consider myself luckier than she is. As I read her post, the rant started in my head. You don’t have to do all of this, where is the responsibility, changes have to be made… And on and on… yeah. There is this rant that basically lives in a little box in my brain somewhere. A rant that says if things get fucked up like this again… etc., etc., etc…. I’m not fixing it next time. I’m not helping, I’m not making the effort, I’m not… who am I kidding?
Because my friend and I have the same problem. It’s not a choice. If, a year from now, I got another phone call from my brother and it all had to start again, I would do it. Short of my brother trying to kill me and then later asking me for favours, the phone rings and I’m there. He is entitled to as much of my time, money, grunt work, emotional and mental stamina, and organizational efforts as he needs. He’s family. It’s what you do. You paint the walls. You fill out the forms. You cook dinner. You make phone calls. You empty your credit line.
The facts of the world are that it is inhabited by a whole lotta different kinds of people. There are some who are very good at being Grown Ups. I never thought I was. I learned to be. I know people who have had to be or learn to be WAY more grown up than I have, but at least now I feel like I get it. There are people, though, who are not good at being grown ups. Some people are self-centred and can’t see the world beyond “I want”. Some people simply don’t understand how to manoeuvre through the world: how to jump through the administrative hoops, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, cause and effect. Some people just cannot get through life easily. Things that for me or you might be a five-minute job turn into a week-long epic of errors and corrections. Could be their fault, or maybe not. They could embody “don’t understand” and/or the “self-centred” types as well. The only absolute is that things are going to be hard, and if they don’t have help, chances are things are going to get very, very messy. (And, human nature being what it is, the more help people need, the less inclined they are to ask for it.)
There is the added psychological burden, in some cases, relating to who you have to help. There are certain “norms” that verge on sacred in our world. Certain things that just are or are not supposed to happen. Children shouldn’t die before parents, parents shouldn’t hurt their children, and the adults are supposed to be the responsible ones. Adults (parents, especially), are not supposed to fuck up. They are not supposed to lose things and forget important things and torpedo their futures and make themselves a burden. Helping a sibling? It happens. In families all the kids have a “role”. Bailing out your parents? That ain’t right. Parents are supposed to help you, support you. And when you’re trying to help them and they’re not working with you as much as they need to, there is extra frustration in that there is a taboo against contravening the “rules” of parental/elder respect. Sure, respect is something that is supposed to be earned, but that’s not exactly how it works. It takes an awful lot for a child to completely abandon all deference and get to the point of hollering, “Will you just shut the fuck up, you pathetic screw-up!” (I don’t know of anyone who’s done that, but I’m sure I know people who’ve wanted to.)
The WNET girls got into an interesting discussion, too, of managing these people and situations. How to deal with it all but keep your own life in order and your sanity intact. My friend’s situation mirrors mine also in that she is at a point where her life is coming together in really cool ways. A job she loves, an amazing boyfriend, some savings, etc. And now this. (I had just finished paying off my car and student loans and was planning a trip to Ireland when my fun started.) She is not willing to give these things up for Project Parental Management. And well she shouldn’t. She’s earned every good thing that comes to her. However, finding balance isn’t easy. Especially in a situation that, like mine, doesn’t have a finish line, per se. It’s going to be a balancing act, to be perfectly blunt, until her parents die. Again, I do not envy her lot.
The lack of a “finish line” also messes with the natural emotional and psychological progression of dealing with crisis and stress and emotional and physical upheaval. In my case, and, to a much greater degree, in that of another friend (who took care of a grandparent), there was an end to the “project”. And after that end, there was a great… stillness. All of a sudden you have all this time on your hands (which you feel guilty about). And you try to remember what things you used to do. And you try doing them and think, “This is a waste of time… this isn’t constructive.” Because reading a book or writing a blog post isn’t mudding drywall or sorting out three years of back taxes. And then you get tired. You couldn’t get tired before, or at least you ignored it because there were miles to go. And you want to sleep. Hibernate, to borrow a phrase. And really? The hibernation can be pretty much literal. That was my Christmas Season, 2005. I didn’t want to see people, engage with people, take part in events. To quote Spike, “Can we rest now? Plus, perhaps most painfully, there is an incredible amount of pain and stress and grief and frustration that builds up over time that you do not have the luxury of dealing with. But eventually it finds a crack. And it throws you. You will randomly burst into tears at a weird moment. Or feel incredibly depressed on a lovely day. And once the crack appears, it’s only a matter of time before the pressure demands release. The day the For Sale sign went up at my brother’s house I went home and cried. I cried harder than I did the night that Andrew left me. And the day after that I cried. And the day after that. My annual Christmas Eve meltdown this year was spectacular. Once it was out, it helped, but just like crises don’t go away overnight, neither does the psychological effect of dealing with them. I still feel weird about sitting down to read a book, about going to the gym, about not having dealt with my brother’s bills in a few days. And once the house sells and things are all sorted out, our lives aren’t going to disentangle to the great degree they were before this all happened. I hope that I will only be needed for occasional “administrative” assistance. I wish the same for my friend. Desperately.