Moving On

As evidenced by yesterday’s meandery post, I’ve been trying over the last few days to face my sense of directionlessness, thinking through it as something other than a crisis, or a cause for alarm, but nonetheless trying to get at its roots and figure out how wandering might resolve, at some future moment, into organized movement.

This has not been an ideal moment for such introspection; the weekend just past was my last weekend in DC, and so R. and I had a bit of an overflow of festivitizing, or at least a bit more than allows for unclouded thinking on the following day. But I’m pretty sure that some portion of my fogginess is a hangover from the BR trip, as well. There’s nothing like dealing close-up with a parent’s pain to cast the shadow of mortality over everything.

Oddly, the story I’m spending this summer gearing myself up to tell, in whatever form I wind up telling it, is in part about the death of a parent, and yet it seems that the intimations of the someday-way-into-the-future death of my own actual parent have so overwhelmed the fictional urge as to make it impossible to concentrate.

Some clarification is perhaps in order here: my mother’s surgery was elective, but left her in completely incapacitating pain, pain into which, for the first day, serious meds knocked only the smallest of dents. The meds left her extremely disoriented, though, and thus further incapacitated. And despite the fact — the fact, I keep reminding myself — that she was never in any mortal danger, never even close to needing further medical attention, somehow the combination of her pain and her delirium seriously Freaked Me Out. It was like seeing the leading edge of that tidal wave that you know is coming — given the general histories of women in my family, it likely won’t hit for at least a couple of decades yet, but it’s coming nonetheless, like it or not.

And it’s impossible not to begin asking, when that wave hits, where will I be, and where will I be left? My father is still alive, but we’re hardly in touch — I’ve taken to joking of late that he’s off in the desert, stockpiling canned goods and waiting for the end times. (A joke, I now see, that originated in the post to which I link. Well, at least if I’m being derivative, it’s myself I’m deriving from.) More seriously, for at least the last fifteen years, whenever I’ve referred to “my parents,” I’ve meant to signal my mother and stepfather; my father does not figure in. (Indeed, one of the last times I saw him, I freudian-slippingly said something about how I resembled “my side of the family” rather than his.)

So there’s that. And then there’s my stepfather: though he and I get along quite well now, there have been some exceedingly difficult moments between us, things that keep us from ever really being close. The sheer fact of the matter is that, given his own family history, he’s likely to die long before my mother. But even putting that aside, the end result of all the interpersonal subtraction is clear: my mother is, for all intents and purposes, my only parent, and when she’s gone, what’s left?

Despite the enormous jumbled mess of folks that I casually refer to as my family (mostly steps of various sorts), my actual family does not stretch far beyond her. There’s my sister, of course, but she and I do a lousy job of keeping in touch — we’re always happy to see or talk to one another when we do, but we don’t do so very often, and so aren’t in some basic sense on one another’s radar screens. And there’s R., my perfect love, but given the difference in our ages, it’s almost certain that someday he’ll be gone, too.

As he’d no doubt point out, my greatest terror, the one that most clouds my judgment and interferes with my rational decision-making processes, is that of being left. And I’m beginning to suspect, as I write this, that what I’ve spent the weekend drinking away, what is preventing me from thinking and working today in the way that I’d hoped to, is last week’s snapshot of the future, an inevitable future in which everyone I love is gone and I am, in some terminal sense, on my own.

Part of me has spent my entire life preparing for (indeed, making way for) this future: I moved out of my parents’ house at 16; I’ve moved across the country, away from R., three times in fifteen years; I keep friends and colleagues at a distance — all of this as if to ensure that the alone that I find myself in is an alone of my creation.

And here enter the maudlin strains of Simon and Garfunkel. Sigh. It’s just flat hard to take oneself this seriously.

So the basic gist: mom’s pain, visions of mortality, fear of abandonment, I am a rock, I am an island. The question becomes what to do with all that. To quote John Barth (though on a very different kind of anxiety), “one way to handle such a feeling might be to write a novel about it.” Another might be to write a whiny blog post, to get it out of your system, and to move the hell on.

4 thoughts on “Moving On

  1. Q: What to do with all that?

    A: Anything not self-destructive.

    Oddly, I seem to have gone through the exact same thing , the details of which are unnecessarily depressing.

    The whiny blog post and moving the hell on are the right path. Focus it all on constructive activities. Pain consumes energy — energy you can easily redirect to progress.

  2. I have to agree with Jonathan, here, KF. You don’t want to put your energy into worrying about this. I did it for two years with my own parents and have now come to the conclusion that worrying is getting me nowhere. Instead, I’ve chosen to celebrate their lives and enjoy each day that I have with them (in spite of all my bitching about their constant nagging when I’m in their presence back home in MN). My father has suffered from a series of heart attacks over the past 5 years, most recently in April, has a pacemaker, and can barely walk around the block without getting winded. Each year I’m thankful that he made it through another one because his days are clearly numbered; heart disease has taken his grandfather, his father, and one of his brothers. My mother suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and has been in such severe and incapacitating pain over the past few years that I’ve had to fly home at a moment’s notice when my father is out of town, in order to help her get dressed, take a bath, get up off the toilet, peel bananas for her, and lift a fork to her mouth. It’s really horrible to see one’s parents live in such pain and to not be able to do the things that they used to enjoy doing. Fortunately, their meds seem to have stabilized them a bit now, and they’re living without serious pain, but we always wonder when the next flare-up will occur.

    An even more frightening realization for me has been that my youngest brother, who is now 28 years old and is mentally retarded, will be in my care when my parents pass away. While I’ve always been close to my brother, the idea of being responsible for him scares me to no end. Am I ready for this? Not really. Will I be when the time comes? Of course I will. I’ll deal with everything when the time comes, just like I’ve learned to do in every other aspect of my life, as have you. Having had numerous discussions with my parents now about what will happen when they die, I feel somewhat prepared to face the challenges that will ensue. The loss will be horrible, and I’ll certainly grieve for a long time, but I take solace in the fact that my friends have become my family, and regardless of the fact that I don’t often open to them about my own family situation, I know that they’ll be there for me when I need them.

    You are not an island. We’re here for you.

  3. Yikes, Shhh — thanks, for the reassurance and the reality check. I’ll admit, I do now feel like a complete and utter asshole for whinging. Yeah, alone has its downside, but on the other hand, the eventual passing of my parent(s) — an eventuality that, first of all, gives every indication of being far into the future — anyhow, that eventuality will leave me with no responsibilities other than co-executing their will. As I try to keep reminding myself, at least on days when I (a) am not having massive hormonal mood-swings, and (b) am not about to leave DC, things could be much, much worse. A big hug to you, and thanks for helping screw my head back on straight.

  4. Oh, man. That message was not meant to be a quitcher-damn-whinin’ e-mail cause-my-life-is-worse. Eep. Sorry if it came across that way. I had a brief and unexpected moment of sharing, I guess. All I really wanted to say was that worrying about these things won’t help – we ultimately have no control over all this, which took me a LONG time to accept. I just don’t want to see you suffer like I did. Have a good trip back to paradise (heh) today.

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