Both of my parents died within 2 months of each other. So, I wanted to honor them by telling you what they taught me. Some of these lessons are great. Some are awful. But, they are what they are.
And I wanted to honor ME by being honest about words spoken that haunt me still. Maybe, although unlikely, openly acknowledging these things will help me bury the pain with my parents.
Many of the lessons I learned from my parents serve me well. All of us kids work hard and live up to our responsibilities. We all keep clean homes and take care of our belongings. I, at least, go on adventures with and without my husband. While I’m not cheap, I do have financial security. But, my dear children, I plan to spend my money on travel so don’t expect a big inheritance!
Why my brain likes to cough up the painful memories, I don’t know. There are some great memories too. For example:
In ninth grade, I was taking Algebra 1 with a teacher named Coach Grey. I was doing poorly and believed it was because I wasn’t an athlete. Coach Grey only answered questions if athletes asked. Non-athletes were red-headed step-children at best.
When I brought my first progress report home, I was scared to death b/c my parents took grades VERY SERIOUSLY. And excuses were not welcome. But, my dad believed I was good with numbers (as he was good with numbers) so he listened.
The next day, unbeknownst to me, he took off work (which he NEVER did) and went to the school. By the day’s end, I was in Mr. Stewart’s math class, an advanced class. I made straight A’s and went on to teach algebra to high school students. I overheard the counselor say, “Don’t mess with her Dad because when he wants it, he gets it.”
When my first book came out, I suggested my parents not bother to buy it or read it. I didn’t want to hear that they hated it so it was safer that way. Well, my mom read it and said, “There were too many words on the page.” My dad didn’t say much. But when I went to clean out their house, I discovered they had bought ten copies.
I’m sure there are a lot more lessons in my fifty-four years with them. They’ll crop up as I do my version of grieving. But, today, sitting in the sun and enjoying my life, these are the lessons that shaped my life for the good and the bad.
Do those “John 3:16” signs at sporting events make you want to seek God? Do street-corner pastors make you want to embrace the church? Even when I was a believer, that type of showmanship made me cringe. Instead of bringing people closer, I think those types of display force people away.
The same is true when someone prays for you without your permission.
A touch of background: As many of you know, I had a mental breakdown in April 2012. At that time, I entered an intense inpatient rehab center in Chicago. I went into that center believing in God. I left that place no longer embracing the faith. I have a new view of the Creator and I hold a lot of animosity towards “the church”. Me and church no longer mix.
My parents, however, have stayed faithful. They quit going to their church only because it was too difficult physically. That was five years ago. In that time, as far as I’m aware, the pastor has not visited. My mother has been hospitalized numerous times and the pastor did not visit. With one exception, none of the ladies group bothered to keep in contact.That one exception, Barbara, has been faithful to my mom. However, being around her makes me very uncomfortable – she represents ‘the church’ to me. Whenever I’m around her I’m tense and judgmental. She knows this – it’s clear in my body language, the tone of my voice.
After my mother broke her hip and we were in the last days, I answered the phone when Barbara called. As expected, she asked how my mom was. She expressed her desire to come visit. Then, she said, “Let me pray for you.”
So far, so good. Well, sort of. She did not give me a choice. She did not give me a chance to tell her I’d rather she didn’t. She said, “Let me pray for you.” Without a breath, she started to pray.
You see, right or wrong, I do believe in A GOD but also believe that either He/She/It doesn’t care about me or He/She/It likes to toy with me and see how much it takes to break me. THEREFORE, I WORK VERY HARD TO AVOID GAINING HIS/HER/ITS ATTENTION. This prayer sent me into fear and paranoia.
Have you ever lay in bed at night and thought “I wish I’d said …”? When this person began to pray, my emotional mind went haywire. Anger. Embarrassment (for me and her), shock, disapproval and bitterness warred for control. My rational mind was shoved out. Rather than politely (or not politely) stopping her, I was paralyzed. Even after she said amen, my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth.
I wish I’d said:
If you want to pray for me or us, please do so. But I don’t need to be a part of the experience. OR
Please feel free to pray for my parents. But I ask that you leave me out of the Godiverse’s presence. OR
Listen, lady, don’t shove your beliefs down my throat. OR
I could have just hung up. (this would have embarrassed my parents – it’s not a good option) OR
I could have explained the truth of my experience with ‘the church’. I could have told her how my Christian friends left me high and dry. How the church never contacted me or my husband while I was away for those weeks. How the youth pastor never reached out to my daughter. I could have educated her on how the church lets people down, shoves them off the pews and out the door.
I’m lucky to have some new Christian friends. These people do not expect me to follow them to church. I imagine they pray for me. But what they never do is force me to pray. If they did, they would no longer be in my life. Instead of shoving their beliefs in my face, they quietly prove their love and acceptance. I told these ladies of my experience and each agreed this person was out of line.
I know some of you are faithful Christians. That’s wonderful – wonderful FOR YOU. If you want to pray for me (or anyone), then do so. I don’t need to be there for you to bow your head. BUT DO NOT FORCE ME INTO YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM. I won’t force mine on you either.
The day my mother died, guess who called? The pastor! Wow! What was I supposed to say to him? He asked if we were doing a memorial service. No. He asked if we were doing a graveside service. No. I told him that my mother requested we have a family poker game. As tacky as it sounds, I got a great laugh picturing his face.
But you know what, he should have known my mother’s wishes. He should have known because he should have visited her and talked to her and helped her through all this. Hell, he should have prayed with her – she would have appreciated it.
I wrote last time about the selfishly aborted shopping trip the day before my mother fell and broke her hip. She died less than a week later.
On Sunday we were told she would not survive this fall and “if people wanted to come say goodbye, now was the time.” One of my jobs was to make telephone calls. I called cousins and one uncle, an aunt. I called one of my mother’s church friends (I’ll dedicate an entire blog to that call). I called their housekeeper, who also happens to be one of my closest friends. Her name is Sandy.
On Sunday, I returned with lunch around eleven AM and what did I see? Sandy sitting next to my mother, talking with her, calming her, stroking her arm, holding her hand. Even as I write this, the need to cry is overwhelming. Tears of gratitude but mostly tears of guilt and shame. But I won’t let the tears fall (a subject of another post).
As much as I needed to … as much as I actually wanted to … I could not sit and touch my mother like that. We are not a “touchy-feely” family. I can recall almost every hug my parents have given me because there are so few. I have never hugged my brothers or nieces or nephews. Even hugging my own children causes a low-level anxiety.
It’s not just me. My brothers and my father also didn’t touch her or each other (well, Dad did rub her arm in those final minutes).
She passed with me standing on one side of the bed and my father on the other. We held hands across that space until we realized what we were doing. Then – BAM – we dropped the hold. When my father started to cry (which I had NEVER seen him do), I walked around the bed to rub his shoulders. That was the best I could offer. No hug. No words of love or grief. A thirty-second rub. And I promise you he was not comforted by that – touch in our family is simply uncomfortable.
I have a few “huggy” friends and my in-laws like to hug too. I am so uneasy that everyone is tense. It’s so bad that many of these huggers just stopped trying. Others stand back, look me in the eye and say, “Hold on, I’m going to hug you.” Then I brace, hold my breath, survive. What most of these people don’t know is that I usually want to snuggle in and almost always choke back tears.
I have to give my in-laws credit. After 27 years of marriage, they haven’t given up on me.
Whenever my son and his family visit (which is often), he and my husband always embrace. The same is true for my daughter and even her boyfriend. I sit on the couch so jealous and isolated. It’s horrible. But I cannot bring myself to enter that tenderness. Why is that? It’s more than just a family culture – it’s deeper and more insidious.
My husband wishes I was more touch-oriented. As a matter of fact, and sadness, touch is one of his love languages and I have the hardest time meeting that need. He’s adjusted but it should have been me to make adjustment.
Even writing about this is stressful to me. I want to be a hugger – to be tender with people. But more than that, I’d like to understand why it’s so hard for me and my entire family. Do we not think we deserve the touch? Did someone along the way make touch ‘wrong’ or ‘scary’? Do we not think people want our touch?
I’m wondering now why I never thought to discuss this with my therapist. I guess it’s one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ things. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to investigate this deeper. Hopefully I can figure this out before my father dies and I’m left feeling sad that I didn’t/couldn’t reassure him of my love with hugs and caresses.
I don’t think my son or future D-I-L read this blog, but if they do… Brian and Angelena, watching the two of you hug my mom, tell her you love her and then snuggling in close to my dad is one my most precious gifts. I’ll try to do better. I love you.
To Sandy P – Thank you for a million things! You made my mother feel special and my father smile. You accept me with all my idiosyncrasies. I love you.
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