Wednesday, June 13, 2007

OK, So I'm Not Really Angry With "Everyone"

Justin and I discussed whether Say-Nothing-Nancy was really the best therapist for me. He knows therapists who actually give advice and skills to use; kind of like wrapping up the session with a little review of what has been said and felt and then a check-for-understanding about what a person can do if a similar situation arises later. (And they always do happen again, don't they?) Justin, after all, is three weeks short of finishing his third-year of medical school and has learned about this stuff.

At first we thought maybe a more obviously wise therapist would be better for me--maybe I had maxed out Nancy's style and needed something more than, "You've learned this in cog, now put it to practice." I carry my cog skill set around like a little lifeline to hopeful normalcy (I hate that Nixon made up that word and we use it now). But then we realized that the last thing I probably need is a therapist who tries to boss me around and tell me how to live. Justin pretended to be me in the most loving way possible and quipped, "You're not the boss of me!"

Maybe a woman who just sits there and lets me be angry or sad is what I need. I haven't had a lot of places where a wide range of emotions is acceptable or a display of strong emotions is not followed by abandonment (too loving--run, too passionate--run, too angry--punish and then run). Of course, I remind myself that she takes money from me for this, but then I also remind myself that with my meager military medical insurance I'm sure she could get more money for that hour from a regular civilian patient. On the other hand, I don't appreciate the implication that my anger and frustration of yesterday was irrational--whose anger after someone dies is rational? She compared it to me being furious with that woman in cog who was pregnant and obviously an incompetent parent. Yeah, it was irrational of me to want to stab her--I didn't even know her. But I think I can be angry with the people I actually know when they're actually wrong (like Mary Lorraine or a therapist who isn't offering guidance even when I ask for it). On the other hand, I'm not really angry with my new-mom best friend because she's been swallowed into the Moby Dick of motherhood--after all, I had every intention of mailing her a card each day I was gone and I didn't even have time to write one. And I was taking care of a dying adult with a "team" of caregivers, whereas she is stuck in the house with a brand new baby and I don't know who else... except for Eric. And of course when I left messages with all my San Diego friends at 9 a.m. they were at work and couldn't contact me until later. So today I feel a little more connected. A little less than I am walking a tightrope and suddenly the safety net underneath is full of gaping holes.

But I think a person who has had a death in the family should feel angry. I know she should. Anger is part of the grief cycle. Everyone who has had even the slightest bit of training in psychology (or even read an article in a magazine) knows that.

Though I'm not suffering over a great loss of someone who I knew really well, who I had a lot of great times with, who was my closest ally (remember, I only know the Toni who was difficult to understand when she spoke and who had a hard time feeding herself and who coughed a lot), I am suffering for those who did love her.

I am sad for my husband who will never be able to ask her the stories of his mother's life, who went through times with her that are harder than the average mother-son conflicts, who relied on her completely when the men in her life (pre-Mark) were walking danger zones (gambling addicts, drug addicts, mentally and physically abusive--you name it, they faced it), who will not get to have her sing happy birthday to him when he turns 33 next week, who will not get to hug her when he graduates from medical school because she inspired him and against all odds made him do his homework and stay in the Marines when he felt awful and who nursed him back to life after his amputation. I am sad for Justin whose family was mostly Toni even though she was only a shell of herself, and who wants to have ties with Mark and his biological dad Jim... who is trying to hold onto whatever family he can have that was his before he became a part of mine.

I am sad for Mark who is stuck taking care of his mother because she took care of Toni. I am sad for Mark and Dorothy who are stuck with Mary Lorraine, the selfish, self-centered, free-loader who doesn't know any other way to live. I am sad for Mark who lost his wife, the woman who understood him and laughed at his jokes (when she wasn't trying not to give him the satisfaction and so only gave him a little smirk--she was such a card...), and who was never so bored on a vacation with him that they had to play cards (in cleaning, I found at least a dozen packs of cards that looked like they'd never been played: "Toni always brought a pack of cards when she went on long trips, in case she got bored. She didn't realize she'd never get bored when I was there.") I am sad for Mark, who is surrounded by the little boxes Toni always bought and filled with trinkets that meant something to her, who I hope will start to fill the pots with plants because that kind of work is therapeutic, who I know will benefit from walking around the block every time his family drives him crazy because he'll get to reconnect with neighbors, and exercise and get fresh air and escape that yappie little dog and his Cheese Nip eating sister and his emphysema suffering chain-smoking Budweiser drinking mom.

And I am sad for me. I am sad that I'll never get to do those things women do with their mother-in-laws--which might be fighting or could be shopping (though I think we both hate that), but would also be hearing the stories about Justin when he was little.

But there is also the relief that we don't all have to constantly worry about how to take care of her. We'll have to come up with another automatic first response for what we would do with the money if we won the lottery--we all said we'd get better medical care for her.

But as everyone says, she had the best care she could have in the end. She was thrilled to be home, you could see it in her face. She had her loved ones with her and the people she had been living with for the past seven years. Her son was there, with his hand on her heart for its very last beat. Her husband was there to say, "Bye Toni." Justin and I washed her with the hospice home health aide who was in transit when it happened and offered to bathe her anyway. It was one of the most spiritual acts in my life. Justin baptized her because she asked--with her defenses against all the horrible lying men in her life down, she could get what she wanted. "I want church," she said.

"Do you want to be baptized?" he asked.


She died in peace and love, and I guess that's all we hope for, though it would be nice if maybe someone could swoop in and care for us now. But maybe she's our guardian angel now--and I'm pretty sure she would want us to go to work and get our house clean...

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