Friday, January 10, 2014

Pain is pain

My husband received a letter from his sister yesterday (stuffed in his "happy" birthday card) that brought up some real anxiety for me. Having watched two parents die in 2.5 years time, I guess I'm a little sensitive. So when the letter dismissed the pain, grief, and heartache I went through simply because I didn't live under the same roof as them when I cared for them (as she does since she never lived on her own and is now unmarried and pushing 60), I was understandably upset. 

To prove that what I went through truly was horrible, I took almost an hour tonight looking at emails from my father in the time between my mother's death and his falling and breaking his hip (thereby landing him in a situation far from a personal computer).

These emails were painful for me when I received them and they are still painful now. They were often filled with anger toward me. Dad said hateful things like I was stealing his money (because I handled his finances due to his inability to remember simple things like not losing a checkbook and paying bills), turning his family against him, "walking off" with his license (which his doctor revoked, not me), filling my dead mother's head with lies about him so she would leave him, blaming him for my mother's death, etc. 

Had my dad not had a difficult personality and made hurtful comments all his life, I could have dismissed this. 

Some of it might have been due to his dementia. But I still feel that because I was the one he needed the most, he resented me for it and took every opportunity to lash out at me. No matter how much I did for him. He would say things that hit below the belt like calling me a frustrated middle-aged woman who couldn't have kids who was using this time when he needed me to control him like I would a child. 

It was ugly. The emails and phone calls came non-stop. Most nights he would call 10 times and leave vicious voicemails sprinkled with a dozen or more emails  in between saying the same thing and copying my siblings. 

I ended up with major health issues (on top of the already raging CFS). At one point my doctor told me to "move to Vermont and change my identity." It was, she felt, the only way I could escape the nightmarish relationship that I still somehow had to deal with because of my father's situation.

None of this was shared with my sister-in-law. She never asked, either. Assumptions were always made that because I would show up at family events with a smile on my face, that I must be fine. Short-sighted and naive at best.

So when that letter arrived yesterday, I was angry. How dare someone who has not walked in my shoes (or lost even one parent) make such claims? Was it because I really didn't go through that hell? Or that I was exagerating? Was I being a "martyr"?

This prompted me to reread those emails. As I read them, I felt the same heartburn and panic I did when I last read them - over a year ago. I could feel the physical pain and the incredible hurt that only a parent can inflict. How did I survive that day after day for almost 2 years? And how did I get through cleaning out and selling the family home last summer when my dad was obviously not coming home to it? All the time dealing with this nightmare with my father and not even having space to grieve my mother?

I can only describe how I feel now as "shell-shocked." As hard as it is and was to go through this, however, I have learned important lessons: Never tell someone you know how they feel. And never ever use someone else's pain as a step stool to your own martyrdom. 

I was told that at difficult times in life you find out who your real friends are. Well, I did just that. And I also found out who I can call "family."