Family disintegration

Illustration for article titled Family disintegration

(sorry - long rambling to follow)

I just read a very sad letter from my sister to our mother that basically she does not want to be in contact with her for the foreseeable future and to not contact her. And in reading it, I am more sad for my sister than our mother. It wasn’t stated in that letter, and it doesn’t need to be, but I assume that I am also persona non grata. I’ve sent cards and letters to her, but never receive a response. Even when I went in for surgery and treatment for cancer, with the outcome a complete mystery since it was unknown for some time if the malignancy had spread, I heard absolutely nothing from her.


Yes, we had a horrible childhood (mine probably worse than hers due to the physical abuse I suffered), and yes, our mother was a terrible, terrible person back then; for example, my sister would do something wrong and yet I’d get the beating. It was evident to me even at a very young age that she never wanted to be a mother and she shouldn’t have been to be brutally honest, and the loss of her husband, our father, at such a young age just further complicated an already bad situation. The mental cruelty that she displayed was simply unjustifiable, although once again, as first born (and the reason they had to drop out of school and get married) I probably suffered through more of that than my sister did. My mother is the reason that I am staunchly pro-choice and honestly believe that I should have been aborted, giving her and my father a chance to grow up, separately, and find suitable spouses before starting families, if they even wanted them.

But thanks to age and modern chemistry, mom has gotten better and has apologized for her errors and unacceptable treatment of us. I have forgiven her, and basically use her as a model of how not to act, even if it means missing out on some important experiences in life. Sure, my life isn’t “normal” by any stretch of the imagination (but certainly not weird or deviant), but I live with a quiet dignity and optimism that belies my upbringing. I don’t have a wife, any kids (to the best of my knowledge), a mortgage, a soul-crushing job, a boring sedan or SUV, or any of the other things that are considered normal for the average American of my age.


My long-term relationships haven’t been the best, probably due to a lack of suitable role models, and whenever I’m in one I always feel awkward and out of my element, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most people, even in healthy relationships, felt that way. I try, I fail, I move on, and if that means being by myself for an extended period of time so be it. I’ve had enough bad relationships to know that I’d rather be alone than together with the wrong person for the wrong reasons, wasting her time and mine.

In that letter my sister kept mentioning things about how she missed out on what she thought her childhood should have been. I don’t know how much sympathy I should have as I feel that longing for some idyllic life is just going to lead to disappointment, and that you need to react appropriately to the situation that you find yourself in rather than living in the past and bemoaning the fact that things didn’t happen as you wanted them to. It’s just like in meetings at work. I simply refuse to spend hours bickering about who did what wrong and assigning blame. The bad thing happened - that is a given. Right now we need to learn from that experience and do everything within our power to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Same thing goes with relationships. Sure, things go bad, sometimes horribly so, but at some point, especially after honest, heartfelt apologies are made, you have to move on and forge a new dynamic instead of hanging on to the past, especially when the things that happened in the past are not still happening now.


My sister has two kids, and they are our folk’s only grandchildren. I am saddened that mom and dad don’t get to experience the joy that one should get by being grandparents, spoiling the kids rotten despite their parent’s wishes and things like that. But my sister and I were isolated from our paternal grandparents, and it’s like she’s repeating the same behavior, and I just think that nobody wins in that situation. I wish I could have spent more time with those grandparents, but that’s history. At least I did have one pair that I was close to and that provided many a happy time during what was otherwise a fear-laden, tumultuous existence. My parents have basically been treated as servants during visits with my sister; babysitting when the grandkids were young, chefs during holidays, all the while my sister was bottled-up and not talking to anyone, avoiding contact.

We never really wanted for much growing up, and yet were kept grounded. There was never a worry about food on the table or a roof over our heads. Especially in later childhood years we were doing fine, materially-speaking, with a nice house in the suburbs, charge accounts at Nordstrom, and reliable transportation. But emotional support was lacking, and the money could never make up for that; I remember asking for, and getting, a big chemistry set for Christmas one year. I didn’t want it because it was a chemistry set - I wanted it because I wanted it to be something that my mother and I could do together since we’re both interested in science, but of course she never had a clue. Our parents had their lives and my sister and I more-or-less raised ourselves, and I knew that this was not normal.


Sometimes I wonder if my sister is inadvertently doing exactly what our mother did to us. Her kids always have the newest iPhone, my niece has seen Hamilton in at least 10 different cities, and my nephew’s first car was a brand-new BMW X2. She has multiple degrees, a fancy 7-figure house, a new BMW or Mercedes every few years, a husband with a huge income and a ranch where they keep their horses, yet she’s miserable and stuck on the past. Conventional wisdom says that I should be the unhappy one - trade-school education (but lots of college credits in multiple majors...), still renting, still single, still driving a cheap 7-year old minivan. I understand that my childhood was the stuff of nightmares, yet I get up every day, go to a job I love helping the less fortunate, getting there in a car that I really like, come home to a pleasant house and relax.

Sure, there are times that I wish I had a girlfriend, and it would be nice if I could have pets as I’d like to have a cat. But I refuse to spend my life obsessing on ‘what ifs’ and constantly worrying about the future. Pardon the platitudes, but with the right attitude things just have a habit of working out for me, and I view the setbacks that I encounter as just temporary. This has been my attitude for some time now and didn’t change with my cancer situation this year, and it seems to be working for me. I just hope my sister can find a similar level of happiness and contentment. Adopting and changing religions, jumping on every yuppie diet fad (keto, Atkins, paleo, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc. and forcing her family into joining her in them), joining social and charity organizations - none seem to give her the peace that she’s looking for. I hope she finds it before it’s too late, giving her even more to regret, but that’s something she must do for herself. There are several of us that that want to help but we are being shut out, and we must wait for her to figure this out on her own.

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