As I write this, I'm living through my parents' obituaries. They're not dead; however, as both of them are in their mid-80's, they are ailing, to say the least. To back up, it's been 35 years since my parents were together as a couple. It's odd for me to even refer to my father and my mother in some plural reference. However, life happens and unfolds in baffling ways.
Unfortunately, this isn't a precursor to some homage to my parents and the inspirational lives they've led. Quite frankly, my parents have been a big pain in my ass since they split when I was 10. Big deal, right? Well, at the time, it was. This was in the 1970s. I know... so last century, so why bring up that baggage yet again? It does have some relevance to the shame I felt, at the time, in being the only one in my neighborhood AND Catholic parochial school who had to endure the scorn of friends, neighbors, teachers and frightfully frigid nuns. And all the novena's and forgiveness my dear mother prayed for breaking her marriage vows, wouldn't or couldn't put my broken family back together again.
My mother, to her credit, left my father. However, it didn't take more than an ink-stained divorce agreement before he fled. To be clear, he wasn't a deadbeat; however he left us with meager means. Mom re-entered the workforce, remarkably, with only her 60 words-per minute typing skills. As a secretary, which is what administrative assistants were called back in the day, my mother was able to provide for me and my three other teen siblings.
Years passed. Mom never remarried; however, my father did. As a young adult and through the decades, I maintained a formal relationship with my father and his second wife. They were a good match and I'll leave it at that. All my life, I've considered my mother my parent and the relationship with my father is as good as it can humanly get with both of us having limitations on the ability to express feeling and emotion.
Being the youngest child, I was, from the get-go, cast in the familial role of rebel, detached from the insanity and lunacy of my birth family around me. A gypsy at heart, I did indeed runaway at 16 and made my way clear across the country -- from the east coast to the west. Having lived in several cities since then, my life has settled, over time, although I remain non-complacent in the moment; always fantasizing about my next escape to a faraway place.
As I warned, this isn't about my parents; but as my therapist reminds me, it's about me! That said, I now live in New York City with my father living an hour north of me and my mother living miles and miles away. That would be in Queens, in the town I grew up in. I grapple with my life journey -- traveling to far away places -- yet ended up, in my 40s, right back at the starting point here in New York. And here is where the drama begins to unfold.
Four years ago, at 82, my father suffered a debilitating stroke that left him an invalid unable to care for himself in any way at all. His younger, devoted wife had been looking after him; however, in a twist of fate last year, she passed on. Upon her death, there was a maddening scramble, to say the least, as to the care of my father and the management of his finances and estate. savvy -- albeit stingy -- businessman, it turns out my dad had stockpiled a bit of cash in his lifetime. And in his own words, my father would always say where there's a will -- there's a relative! Funny right? Well not so much.
The stroke over time has left my dad with the inability to think on his own. He can no longer make decisions; yet he and his wife, years ago, had the foresight to do estate planning and identify the need for elder care. That said, the best laid plans... usually wind up in court. And, for my father and his welfare, this involved many relatives; related and not. To cut to the chase, we now have an independent court-appointed financial guardian to manage the money in my father's name to pay for his care. And I, the rebel and runaway, if you recall, have now become the legal guardian managing his health care. There is no glory in this; nor is there much to do in my newly assigned, court-appointed familial role.
Many thought my father would have given up on the passing of his second wife. He remains stubborn, true to form, despite being a prisoner in his own body with a diminishing mind that functions only when prompted by asking him about memories of the past. I visit my father often. More so then I ought to. There is an innate obligation that I have no conscious control over. In rare moments of clarity when visiting him, I see through his eyes and into the soul that is still there.
The irony lies in the lack of power I had as a 10-year-old. Now, my father lies in bed, or is lifted into a chair by his aides, completely powerless over his life. This, to me, should be a triumph, as I struggle with the resentment I still harbor for abandoning us as children; his failure to be a father and his unnerving miserly character incapable of parting with money nor providing any emotional support when I needed it most, as a child, many years ago. I no longer look to my father for the validation I sought during those years. When he had his own mind, we had many tough talks over the years to clear the polluted air. The time together now, I realize, is a process of mourning and our hearts remain connected in a peculiar way.
My mother, bless her heart, remains silent about the situation with my father. She realizes she has little say over the matter, nor does she have any interest. She is an independent woman in her 80's who still drives to church every Sunday, volunteers at the local community hospital on Mondays, lunches with the few remaining friends she has outlived and stays current with her children and grandchildren. A full life indeed; otherwise healthy, yet she pushes the bar as a lifetime smoker unable to kick the habit over years of unsuccessful attempts. We deal with mom's addiction and accept it. However, just recently, it has gotten the best of her. Her lungs can no longer tolerate the poison she subjects them too. Her once-spritely gait has regressed to a slow shuffle as she gasps for air with every step she takes. Her independence has rapidly whittled away.
As I write this, I'm living through my parent's obituaries and now you see why. It's yet another passage through life, I know, as I grapple with loosing them. Although, I am still unwilling to accept the fate of my own mortality, I question the meaning of life and its ensuing mysteries.
With both my parents ailing, I return to the death of my sister 16 years ago. It is my one true heartbreak in this lifetime. Diane, my sister, suffered with juvenile diabetes, which as an adult, led to many complications, including kidney and eventually heart failure. Her death was the last time my nuclear family was together. Diane lay in a coma, my mother on one side, my father on the other, and my two brothers and I surrounding her. We encouraged her to pass as we stood beside her to witness her last breath, the color wash from her skin and her soul gently lift from her body to up above us.
It wasn't a Hallmark moment to say the least. But putting family differences aside, we were able to lay her to rest. I'm not so certain this time around, with the anticipation of my parents passing on. In the midst of our busy, separate lives, my brothers and I are dealing -- or not dealing -- with our mother and father in our own way, on our own terms.
For me, I share my fear and anxiety with beloved friends. It is comforting, as most of them are dealing with ailing parents themselves. I just wish there was an official handbook or list of rules for what lies ahead. As I seek and search for a copy of 'Death for Dummies,' a good friend of mine prods me to 'just get over it.' That advice both angers and relieves me. But for now, as I write this, I'm living through my parent's obituaries.