As I've enjoyed her writing I thought many of you might too, and was so pleased when she agreed to guest post here for us. I asked her to write for our theme on this page, of a loss, followed by how she dealt with it, or not, as the case may be.
With typical Andy directness and great writing ability, here it is, and many thanks to her for sharing it with us.
Bad News Phone Call
It was 1987, a time before cell phones and customized rings, so this ring sounded like any other. My husband gave me a quizzical look as he crossed the room on his way to answer it, since I was the one sitting closest to it.
After his initial hello, the person on the other end spoke for quite some time, and watching his face freeze much the way my body had upon hearing the ring, my fear was confirmed.
I felt guilty for years for not having answered the phone that day, for foisting the responsibility of first hearing, and then having to find the words to tell me, that my brother had taken his own life. However, that guilt was a mere drop in the proverbial bucket, but it was enough to make my bucket overflow.
It all back-fired
While he was with us, he joined A.A. and stopped drinking. It was a condition he had to abide by to live with us. It wasn’t the first time he’d lived with me. I’d been more of a mother to him than our mother had been. I can remember washing out his cloth diapers in the toilet when I couldn’t have been more than four-years-old while my parents were either out dancing or home fighting. We all went into foster care eventually, and when I turned 18, I had custody of him for a while, between foster homes, since he was four years younger than me.
I was advised by his A.A. sponsor to encourage him not to depend on me too much, but to take responsibility for his own sobriety by getting to meetings on his own and building a support system. That’s why, during the last conversation we would ever have, I said no when he asked me to drive him to a meeting. It wasn’t only my baby brother I lost that day—it was all sense of worth as a family member of any kind—mother, sister, and even wife.
Trying to makes sense of the senseless
Of course, this emotional strategy was unsuccessful. What I remember most about the co-dependence group-therapy sessions I attended later that year, besides role playing and beating chairs that represented my parents with a bataka, was an analogy the therapist made. She talked about how a baby deer will stay with, and try to continue nursing from, its mother, even after its mother has died, because that’s all it knows.
It was my father who found my brother’s body. After he was an adult, my father accepted him as a drinking buddy and someone who could do some work for him occasionally. No matter how many times my brother had been beaten, neglected or manipulated by guilt, he never stopped wanting my parents’ love and acceptance.
Like the baby deer, he kept trying to get emotional sustenance where there was none, because it was all he knew. He never learned that some people are just toxic, and that you need to develop healthy boundaries to keep such people out of your life.
Struggles with the stages of grief
Holding out hope that my parents would change and give me what I needed kept me in a perpetual state of emotional childhood, never learning to give those things to myself or even bother to learn what those things were. It also kept me in a perpetual state of unworthiness. If we were truly worthy, wouldn’t they have changed and taken care of us?
I’ve finally learned that forgiveness is for me, not them—to free me from anger and blame, but above all, to free me from the past so that I can live fully in today. I’ve also learned that I’m not morally inferior for choosing not to have my abusers in my life at all, and that sometimes what is required to achieve compassion and understanding is permanent distance.
Supposedly, the final psychological stage in the grieving process associated with loss is acceptance. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there, though, because loss begets more loss.
My brother’s wife, crazed with guilt after his death, became a drug addict, and my nieces became teen mothers in abusive relationships that replicated what they’d seen growing up.
I think the final stage should be renamed “acceptance of powerlessness”, rather than just acceptance, because that’s only as far as I have been able to get in all these years since his death. There is no way I will ever find what he endured in his life, his early death, or any of the resulting consequences of it acceptable. However I have found some degree of peace and freedom in being able to accept that I’m really not in control of anything but myself, and over life and death, not at all.