Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ravaged Heart and Soul


I have been struggling with the following topic and have debated whether to post on it at all. But after much soul searching I am going to release it from my heart and out to the Universe, where I hope it will somehow come back to me in the form of wisdom and relief. The issue that follows has wounded my heart far more than the death of my husband and the divorce of the second. After all the grief work I have done on my own and with my counselor, what I have finally come to is that I never even had to have these grief experiences to feel the worst pain I could feel - it was already there, buried under all the grief of the past years - waiting to be finally uncovered.

I speak about my family of origin issues. Suffice it to say, my three siblings and I grew up in an abusive, neglectful home and today I am sure we would most likely have been removed and raised by the state. Soon after my husband's death, my parent's health greatly declined (mental and physical) and my local sister, brother and I became involved with their caregiving. I had always been extremely close to my mother and concentrated my care on her. My sister and brother concentrated on my father's needs. When my mom died in August, 2007, the fragile family bonds we had maintained over the years fell apart. I also did not want to pretend anymore that we were close siblings, when we were not.

But all of this greatly breaks my heart because somewhere, somehow while growing up, I developed the strong ideal that a family always watches out, cares for, and defends its own. What my reality was, however, is that is not the case within my family unit. For years I harbored strong grudges against both of my brothers for failing to send a card or flowers when my husband died. I felt it was the very least they could do, having known him for 13 years. After his death, there were no casseroles, offers of help with the house maintenance or playdate suggestions for my two young sons, ages 9 and 10. It would have been nice to have had them over for a weekend to interact with their cousins and give their poor, overwrought mom a break/rest.

As the drama of my divorce and subsequent foreclosure took root, there were again no offers of support. And I guess all I really ever wanted was some measure of emotional caring/compassion. But my brother and sister seemed to side with my ex-husband and defend his position ("He thought he did enough" from my sister, while my brother went on about how difficult it must have been for my ex to take on a readymade family made up of two teen boys).

What has hurt the most is the lack of any minimal emotional support since both sibs have known of the foreclosure. I have never asked for financial help nor do I expect it. But what I do crave is a small amount of emotional kindness and acknowledgment. The last time I saw either of my sibs (the third lives in Hawaii) was at Easter and we discussed the foreclosure. My brother has had no contact with me and my sister briefly talked to me after I initiated her advice before accepting my retail job (and that conversation was stilted and uncomfortable).

About a week ago, I received the following phone message from my brother:

"Hi, Widow in the Middle, it's B. Just giving you a call that dad has another care meeting scheduled for August fourth at 2:30, so it looks like it's a week from tomorrow, 2:30 at [his assisted living facility]. So give me a call if you want me to try to schedule that or something or let them know. The person is _______ at #____________. Thank you. Bye."

No real hello how are you doing. No concern about me or the boys. Just a businesslike message informing me of my duty to attend my father's care plan meeting. I think that what especially bothers me is the lack of care or concern toward my sons. I know if the situations were reversed, I would have made a substantial effort to have remain connected with my nieces/nephews and would have exhibited a strong amount of concern toward their well being after the death of one of their parents.

I have been haunted by this message since it occurred and was unable to talk directly to my brother so emailed him a short, impersonal reply. I am still trying to come to terms with my familial relationships (or more descriptively, the lack of any kind of real relationships). It is especially hard now as I gear down for the house selling and our move into an apartment. My heart is breaking and I feel I do not have the support of anyone (save a handful of friends and my therapist) to rely on. This is where family is supposed to step in and be there as an emotional rock. To have to face the demons in my soul as I clear up my house, lose my status as a homeowner and move to a less desirable area of town to keep my boys at the same school is devastating. I need and want someone to rely on during this stressful crisis (and I can't say I'm even finished grieving my divorce yet either).

The single worst aspect of widowhood for me has been the lack of a partner standing by my side to face the worst that life has had to offer me (the diagnosis of my youngest with a potentially fatal medical condition; the death of my Mom and now this financial nightmare, foreclosure and loss of my home). To go this all alone while parenting and working is a feat deserving of a gold medal in stamina, endurance and strength.

And the most painful aspect of my life thus far has not been the passing of my first husband or the end of my second marriage, but the death of my beliefs and illusions in what I had always hoped to count on when the shit really hit the fan. I am supposing that these current feelings go back to my very young childhood and the painful reality of not being accepted, of being abandoned and neglected. I know it is part of the reason that marriage is such a strong desire of mine - I have a huge need to feel secure and protected.

My heart now seems less burdened having related these feelings. My recovery work is not yet completed. My girlfriend has suggested that I put my family issues on hold and concentrate on my move. That is the plan - I don't think the conflict existing between my sibs is going to go anywhere, anytime soon.

Today I am grateful:

For the good aspects of my current home that I have enjoyed over the years -

1. The way that I can always see the moon from my bedroom windows.
2. That I can hear the church bells from town chime all day.
3. That we lived in a very safe neighborhood.
4. That the boys attended excellent schools.
5. That we had a large, private double lot with lots of trees that was also a curse when it came to mowing and weeding.


  1. I so feel for you. So much of what you have written i could have written myself. So much of what has happened in my life and continues to happen has a base in my childhood. There is some research on "toxic families" that you may find helpful. Even though I recognize that my own family is "toxic" I have not been able to change my actions, behaviors. feelings, moods etc. that I know hurt myself that I believe are due to my upbringing. I no longer speak to my father. I only see my brother if he happens to be at a family holiday that I am also at. I do try and have a relationship with my mother (and sister; that one is kind of by default - my sister is my mothers best and only friend). If truth be told more so that i don't feel totally alone than it is a good thing for me - I saw her two days ago for a few hours and somehow that night I ended up in a crumpled, crying mess and I still feel terrible about myself which also ends up hurting my husband...
    I hope one day to have a child and give them the life I had always wanted. You are giving that to your boys. While we cannot control our families actions we can control how we bring up our own. Take care. Bec.

  2. what we do to each other, i think, is far worse than facing death. psychology is called a soft science but trying to make sense of human behavior feels like emotional combat at times.

    i could say i am so very sorry for the childhood you lead. i could say i know how you feel. the first is at best anemic. the second would be an affront to your pain.

    but i do feel compassion and empathy for your anguish. i wish there was one thing you could focus on, see something up on the horizon that flashes in the sunlight. then you could focus on that and keep walking. i read a book about men trapped behind enemy lines, can't remember the name of it now, but one brief soliloquy has stayed with me. one man criticized the group for continuing on when it all seemed fruitless. his suggestion was to stay and dig in and try to stay alive until maybe someone could find them. but their squad leader said, "no. get up and get moving." he passed out assignments that seemed inane but the men all scurried off to do their respective jobs. then the squad leader turned to the man who wanted to give up and he said, "do not speak again unless it is to offer something constructive. i know there is no hope. they know there is no hope. but to say it out loud is unforgivable. don't take it away from them because, somewhere, there is always hope. even if you can't see it. if you take away their jobs, you take away their belief that they can make it home."

    you are working your way through this like that squad leader. you know things are grim. you feel pain about issues that may never be resolved. that might be what hurts the most. unresolved issues. regrets. we all have them. some are more hurtful than others. "i never lived in a castle" isn't as bad as "my siblings have abandoned me."

    i don't know if what i'm saying will do any good but i most certainly pray it doesn't offend you. you are hurt and you shouted it out. i'm proud of you. it's a very public cry of some very private pain while you wait for someone to hear. so many of us go unheard that i wonder why we even continue talking at all, but we do. we want to be seen. we want to be heard.

    i heard you. i know you're out there in the universe. and i know that you are hurting. the world is a sadder place tonight because you are in pain. there is no magic wand. there is no cure. but there is hope. sometimes it's all we have.

    all my hopes are for you and your boys to make a seamless transition to apartment dwellers. i live in a very small apartment but it is becoming home now. my husband is here with me in many forms. his ashes on the mantle, photos everywhere. i sleep with his bivy bag from the Marine Corps. i hug it because i tell myself it smells like him. you will make a home of your apartment. your boys will be your family. they may be involved in their own lives a little bit now, complaining, worried, but they are your boys.

    and when they grow up, they will still be your boys. they will know what you went through to protect them, care for them, and that you never faltered on this hard road to their adulthood. it comes back around. trust me. my two children are proof of that. they have taken care of me as best as they can throughout all of my grief. your sons will be men sooner than you can believe and they will turn around and offer you their care.

    and magically, you will have the family that you need so badly right now. it will just take a little bit more of their growing up. then it will be you and your boys. sometimes, though it is one of the singular most painful things you'll ever do, you just have to let go of the people who are unable and unwilling to give unconditional love. even if they are your siblings.

    i hope even one word of all that brought you a modicum of solace.

    as always, peace.

  3. Dear Widow:
    This is B ---. I am sorry about the message. I never know if you will get them. I cannot make day time meetings. I also am at my maximum amount of stuff i can do for a parent who was not very close or loving to me. Do i want help from you. or S, or anyone, you bet. Could i have done more when your husband died? Sure. Did you ask for help? No. Did our family upbringing prepare us for this moment? No. We had an every man for himself attitude. Can we all change now? Maybe. Just call me. or S. I would love for the kids to all be friends. To support each other. Don,t snipe at me in a blog. You can call me anytime. Why dont we all get together before school begins and have a non holiday fun get together? There are always more aspects to any situation than what i read in your blog.

  4. oh my. "did you ask for help?" i remember the first few weeks after my husband died. having to ask for help? i can't imagine why you would have to climb up through the despair and seemingly endless pain to do that. breathing is work. breathing and taking care of children who are devastated by the death of their father, and you have to call and coordinate and negotiate the family quagmire, too? wow. some people bring casseroles. others a comforting hand on your shoulder. then there are the ones who sit in their ivory towers do and give absolutely nothing of themselves.

    "can we all change now? maybe." it's like no one has any thoughts other than that "every man for himself attitude."

    "just call me." again, the one who is so tired, struggling with so much, has to talk themselves off the ledge for the benefit of those who just won't give an inch. not even to meet someone else halfway.

    this blog was pretty much anonymous to the widow/widower community until the post from 'B.' now the curtains are flung open and the window into your world exposed. after all the "sniping at me in a blog," 'B' is ready for some family fun time. that's gonna be something to look forward to. one has to wonder if 'B' will sit and half listen or perk up at the sight of you and start giving you a piece of his/her mind. bushwhacked, they used to call it.

    this community here was supposed to be for venting and ranting, hoping for a glimmer of gentle insights. reaching "out into the universe" as you called it. the every-once-in-a-while kook comes along and drops a bomb but to have one shot at you by a family member who has the "i'm not going to let her get away with this venting" rage that poisons them is always an unpleasant surprise.

    i was raised Methodist. i converted to Catholicism. my brother disowned me. when my husband died, i called my brother believing that, through something as terrible as the death of a spouse, he would offer condolences. all i got was "take it up with the Pope," and he hung up on me.

    "sniping at me on this blog." "there's more aspects to any situation than what i read..." "your husband died, you should have called me."

    i'm sorry for your family troubles and that when you thought you were in a safe place, just venting out your frustrations, someone took a swing at you. what 'B' may not realize is that everyone has a breaking point. even you. try not to break. do what you were always taught. "don't put your hand in the fire," and "don't get in the car with strangers.' i think both of those bits of wisdom serve here.

  5. it's 4 years now since my husband just did't wake up one day. it was on Halloween. that used to be my favorite holiday.. i lived in a neighorhood with hundreds od kids. now i moved, with whether good or bad, influence from other people. ther are no ids here. there are no neighbors her. its really lonely. i cry a lot because i can't be sure of most of most of my choices. i don't know how to undo them. i think i spend a lot of timr feeling sorry for myself. where can i find some positive help. God bless all of you who sadly have to write here. good-night.