terminal illness of family member/spouse


Hypnotically Pink for the Cure (1488505615)

Image via Wikipedia

Last week’s uproar over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s anti-choice antics led me to want to know more about the young woman for whom the breast cancer awareness behemoth is named. But after  a couple of days of Googling, it became clear that after 32 years, poor Suzy Komen is little more than a name on corporate letterhead. Her story is forever lost, filtered through her sister, Nancy Brinker’s, perceptions of the events and how she has decided that the story of the real Susan Komen should be presented.

If you google Susan G. Komen, you will be rewarded with links that speak only of the foundation. Aside from Brinker’s memoir, which is really more about her than her sister, precious little information on Suzy Komen exists.

The poor thing doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia entry. Her namesake fundraising corportion, however, does and so, unsurprisingly, does her sister, Nancy.

One thing I did find, and it’s also not a shock because the Internet is stuffed with all manner of griefy culture things, was a picture of Suzy’s grave. And it immediately occurred to me after reading the inscription that Suzy isn’t the only one left out in cold as far as her story goes. So was her husband.

She is listed as daughter, mother and sister. Presumably the children had a father so at some point, she was a wife. Why isn’t that mentioned? A quick peek at the “official” Komen Foundation historical record on her mentions a husband, Stan, her high school sweetheart, but then it drones on with barely a mention of him or their two children again. Judging from the Foundation’s biography of Suzy, the only people who truly counted in her life were her parents and, of course, her sister.

Knowing what I do about the widow world and the odd notions that extended family and the non-widowed have about the whole “til do you part” and the general scorn there is for widowed who move on at an “unseemly” pace, I came to three possible conclusions.

Stan Komen, Suzy’s husband:

  1. bailed on her while she was ill and therefore earned his exile.
  2. remarried too soon for her family’s liking
  3. doesn’t care much for the happy, happy, joy, joy Disney Princess pink face that Komen’s spin has slathered all over the disease that killed his wife and so he declines to be a part of it.

Stan Komen owned a wine and spirits store in Peoria, Illinois. He still does. You can google him and it. I even found a few news articles that refer to him as a successful business owner and a person who offers advice to others in his industry. There is no mention of a second marriage, but I would guess he has moved on. He was a young man with young children, and it’s doubtful that he remained single (though I wouldn’t rule it out).

But no explanation of his, or his children’s, absence from the Pink juggernaut’s publicity machine. Cuz, let’s be real, run, walk , jump and knit bras for the cure owes its existence to bereaved spouses, children and extended family and friends.  Widowed who involve themselves in the cause to eliminate what killed their spouses is cliché.

So, did he piss his in-law’s off while his wife lay dying?

“A lot of guys bugger off when their wives fall ill,” Rob reminded me.

And that is true. Breast cancer victims especially find themselves alone quite often although I bet the reverse isn’t true with men who find themselves physically altered by prostate cancer.

However, I managed to find a preview of Nancy Brinker’s book about … herself mostly … and the origins of the foundation via Google books. According to Nancy, her brother-in-law was pretty much a Hollywood stereotype of devotion and sacrifice during his wife’s illness. He loved her very much and was devastated by her death.

Colour me confused then by his absence from his wife’s final legacy on the place where she rests. Even if he did remarry that doesn’t make her less of a wife to him. That was part of who she was and should be included regardless of what he moved on to.

I found the whole thing rather sad. Suzy asked her sister to “find a cure” for the disease that killed her. Komen donates very little really to research. The bulk of what they collect from the husbands, children, family and friends of women dead or dying is funneled to pay salaries of Komen employees (Nancy herself makes over $400 thousand a year as CEO) or is used to lobby Congress on behalf of insurance pharmaceutical companies or promote Pink ribbon products that often contain chemicals that are thought/known to cause breast cancer and to promote events to promote breast cancer “awareness”.

The last is funny because women in North America are so aware of breast cancer that they don’t know that they are actually more likely to die of cardiovascular disease. Fear-mongering has paid off so well for Komen that the latest research on the  risks of overscreening via mammograms are ignored or treated like junk science.

Suzy would be proud, I am sure, of the fact that 32 years after her sister promised to find a cure for breast cancer, a woman with stage four of the disease has nearly an identical survival rate as she would have had 50 years ago.

I am still left wondering who Suzy and Stan Komen were. Her silence on last week’s events and her sister’s efforts over the last three decades is understandable given that she is dead and all, but his? Telling? Maybe.


Terry Fox statue in Ottawa

Image via Wikipedia

Terry Fox Day, week, month, millennium – take your pick – is upon us again. Being a Canadian hero/icon, it’s hard to get away from the fundraising done in his honor/memory during the month of September, but Dee continues to be unsettled by the nation’s adoration and determination to carry on the fight against cancer – via money – in his name.

As I do every fall, I sent numerous email reminders to the school asking that Dee be allowed to opt out of all the assemblies and/or information sessions about Terry. They nearly all include some sort of visual representation of Terry, and she simply can’t see the guy without it conjuring up negative emotions. I have told her that someday it won’t bother her as much to which she replied,

“It will always bother me.”

Perhaps this is due to the fact that her first encounter with him occurred shortly after our moving up to Canada from the U.S. when she was dealing with all sorts of adjustments and readjustments, and poor Terry was swept up into the emotional stew never to be released. Whatever the reason, neither Rob nor I feel that Dee’s participation in Terry Fox Day is important enough to force it on her. It’s just another made up holy day. She is happy to take her toonie and walk with the other kids during the walk/run in his name and that’s fine with us.

Inadvertently, however, one of the staff showed her class a video about Terry last Friday. When she informed me, all I could do was sigh. I can’t run interference 24/7 and I told her that. Sometimes these things will happen and she is going to have to open her mouth to object herself or suck it up and deal.

“It couldn’t have been that upsetting,” I told her.

“It was,” she insisted. “It makes my tummy feel uncomfortable.”

“Not that much,” I countered, “or you would have spoken up, and you would have said something as soon as you got home from school.”

She couldn’t refute that because she didn’t mention it until later that evening as we were on our way to shop for birthday presents for upcoming parties to which she has been invited.

“I still didn’t like it,” she replied.

And I don’t imagine she did. I can’t stand watching movies or television shows that depict death or grieving. It’s just not entertaining.When you haven’t experienced something, seeing it is enlightening and gives you a chance to mentally try it on and live it, but once you can call an event your own through first hand experience, the vicarious thrill isn’t so thrilling anymore.

Terry Fox reminded me though that although Dee is a bit over experienced in the dealing with death department for someone her age. She still needs to be prepped in advance of  incoming where death is concerned.

Rob and the older girls have another funeral up north to attend, and as I was explaining to Dee why were weren’t going (Rob and I are agreed on no more funerals for Dee unless she had a relationship with the deceased), she inquired as to whether or not she and I would be taking care of Edie’s dog, Loki.

The dog is getting on in years and has been suffering with diminished mobility that’s gotten worse over the past year. He can’t be left home alone even if it’s just overnight, and he is getting to be too much work to ask someone to take him in for a couple of days here or there. Still, we’ve taken Loki before, soDee’s question was a logical one.

“No, honey, ” I said, “Loki is a lot of work now, and he is more comfortable being with Edie anyway.”

“Because of his legs?” Dee said.

“Yes, his legs aren’t getting better, and Edie knows best what to do for him.”

“They aren’t getting better?” the tone and not the words contained the actual question.

“No,” I said, choosing my words very carefully. “Sometimes, doctors can’t do anything, and they can’t do anything for Loki. His legs will get worse, and then he will not be able to use them.”

She nodded thoughtfully and said, “That’s why Edie is getting the wheelchair thing.”

I nodded, “But that’s just to make things a bit easier. Loki isn’t going to get well.”

“Animals don’t live forever,” she agreed, “and neither do humans.”

And that’s where the conversation was left. Later on, as I retold it to Rob, I pointed out that it was only in the moment I realized that Dee needed advance preparation for the inevitable where her sister’s dog is concerned.

The dog, in a twist of ironic fate that makes me dislike the universe’s odd sense of interconnectedness, is suffering from a demyelinating illness that is slowly paralyzing him. Once it’s done its dirty work on his lower half, it will travel up the spine and leave him essentially trapped in a useless body. It’s very similar in effect to the disease that killed my late husband, Will. It’s not consciously painful, but the collateral issues can cause discomfort and anxiety. There isn’t much that can be done because science just hasn’t found a way to replace the damaged myelin sheath that covers nerves in people or animals. Once the protective covering is gone that’s it. What’s left is no more or less than a prison made of flesh. To say that I am not eager to bear witness to that, or to the pain it will cause Edie, is understating and understatement.

Though Loki’s issues are not new, the diagnosis is and the game plan is in early days. Progressive degenerative illnesses vary from according to the individual, and so everyone waits, watches and hopes – but it’s never to early to begin to prepare. I am a Boy Scout in this matters, and so I laid a bit of the groundwork for Dee.

Tomorrow, she will hang out in the library while her classmates watch yet another inspirational video about Terry Fox, and then she will join them as they run or walk to raise money to beat a disease that will never be beaten. Death comes to all things and cancer or degenerative illness are but two of its avenues.

I wonder if the organizers picked the last month of summer on purpose? With its fading, falling retreat to pre-winter here, it’s a fitting season for such an event.

 


Republican campaign poster from 1896 attacking...

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The reality show known as the GOP debates produced a lovely but somewhat disingenuous meme the other night. Moderator Wolf Blitzer (who has to be hoping that someday he can escape back to some semblance of his cooler “scud stud” days before he dies a tool of the main stream media) asked candidate Ron Paul one of those delightful beside the point questions that involve hypothetical scenarios from an alternate United States timeline,

Headline meme’s on Facebook and Twitter embellished the lone gunman’s “yes” response to Blitzer’s “should society let him die” to GOP Audiences Cheer as Ron Paul Proclaims that the Uninsured Should be Left to Die. Which is not what the man said at all, and to be more fair, the audience cheered him on his rather wishy-washy “personal responsibility” point and not about letting a man in a coma die because he didn’t have health insurance.

Personal responsibility is a red herring catch-all phrase in the United States that allows people to safely distance themselves from the reality that many people are responsible and are still caught by rock and hard place scenarios from which only a government  safety net can save them. It’s a word we use when we don’t want to acknowledge that we are really heartless fucks who don’t care about anyone outside our personal circles.

Regardless, the meme spoke and it came down on the side of slightly twisting the event to make Ron Paul, the Tea Party and the GOP in general fit the storyline, which is that people on the right are cold, soulless bastards who want to make over the American government in their heartless, bible thumping, Ayn Rand loving images.

The reality, which is that Blitzer’s what if missed by a country mile, is that most uninsured Americans can’t afford health insurance and that Ron Paul lives in a fantasy world where churches and other charities still take care of these people. This, however, wouldn’t have made as compelling of a soundbite. It certainly wouldn’t have fit in a Tweet.

In keeping with their newfound zeal to fight half-truth and blatant lies with more of the same, the energized Left pounced all over The 700 Club’s Pat Robertson yesterday with a similar eye for clever editing and disingenuous headlines.

Robertson does this quaint Q&A during his broadcast. Viewers send in questions, and he plums the depths of his holy man status to advise them.

The Crooks and Liars (and they couldn’t have named themselves better if they tried) website quickly and crudely edited this gem*, which sped about the social media like new gossip in a high school lunchroom.

Pat Robertson Says Divorce Terminally Ill Wife went wild to the point that the mainstream was forced to pick it up and repeat the nonsense.

Nonsense because that’s not really what Robertson said. In a rare compassionate take on his own brand of Christianity, he admitted that wanting to move on from a marriage that has been effectively ended by one spouse’s dementia is an ethically difficult one, but that he would not judge someone who did. In his opinion, a man who wanted to do so should make sure his wife is well-cared for and divorce her though he admitted that perhaps an ethicist  would be the better person to ask.

I have little patience with hypotheticals that aren’t really. People die from lack of health insurance all the time. Spouses are effectively widowed by dementia all the time. Let’s not play with this scenarios as though they aren’t thorny and real. Just because you may have avoided some tragedy or other doesn’t make it just another thought exercise.

Anymore I can’t distinguish between Left, Progressive, Right, Moderate, Conservative, Liberal. It’s all shrill. Or half-lie to “make a point”. Or making light of the very real lives of very real people to make a point like the Robertson meme in particular. It’s mostly bullshit that distracts from the work that needs to be done to solve the actual problems that are crushing the democracy right out of the country.

A Facebook/Twitter friend, who suffers from a life-threatening illness, took understandable exception to the overlaid implication that abandoning sick/terminally ill spouses is okay. She comes at the meme from the opposite side of the equation from myself. In some ways, the sick person has the upper hand because they are, rightly, awarded the lion’s share of the sympathy, but speaking as the former spouse of a man who had dementia, there are two sides to every story regardless of how tragic it is.

She was appalled by Robertson’s stance that dementia leaves essentially a “walking dead person” in its wake, but that’s exactly what it does. And just because it makes you uncomfortable to “go there” doesn’t make it less a fact.

First they become a complete stranger, Then they devolve into a stranger who doesn’t know you. Finally, they become a breathing corpse. A simplified version. There is more, and most of it is sad, lonely and soul-crushing, so I will spare you the finer points.But “walking dead” is a good, if stark, analogy.

Like Robertson, I don’t fault anyone who wants to cut and run. I’d have run a hundred times if I’d had the opportunity. I am not a better person because I didn’t.

Loyal spouses are patted on the head for their exemplary capacity for self-sacrifice just as the terminally ill who fight tooth and nail, even when they and their families would be better off if they didn’t, are given posthumous gold stars for “courage”. It’s textbook. It’s Hollywood. And it’s beside the fucking point.

Sometimes I understand perfectly why Obama always looks like a middle school teacher just after his worst class of the day. Are there any grown-ups left in the room down south anymore?

 

*You can see the clip in its entirety here.


John Edwards Healthcare Forum

For some reason, the hot rumor of the day is that former Democratic presidential hopeful, John Edwards,  proposed to Rielle Hunter, the woman he had an affair with during the 2008 election campaign. He allegedly popped the question over the Christmas holidays – which incidentally followed hard on the heels of his estranged wife Elizabeth’s slow death from cancer.

It might be a good time to point out that Edwards and Hunter share a two-year old daughter from their liaison and that Edwards and his wife had been separated for some time before her death. Whatever the state of their relationship may have been, she did allow him back in her house during her final days for the sake of the three children – two of them quite young.

The other day, the press made a semi-big-purely speculative-to-do over the fact that Elizabeth didn’t mention her almost former husband in her will.

Ah-ha! They crowed. She gave John the big FUCK YOU, YOU CHEATING ON ME WHILE I DIE SLOWLY BASTARD!!

To which I say – huh? Who includes her soon-to-be ex-husband in her will? And kudos to her*, by the way, for jumping on the will revision so quickly. Most Americans with children don’t even have a will let alone think to revise it when their circumstances change.

But there was no reason for her to include him unless he was in need of funding to support their children and, clearly, he isn’t.

The world is so keen on retribution. As if going from “golden boy” to has-been probably hasn’t shattered enough someone who’s spent his life being praised, gloried and handed goodies that most of us can’t even begin to imagine. Attention-whores on his wave-length don’t function on the same “any publicity is good” level that the Snooki’s and Lindsay Lohan’s of the world do.

In any case, using her will, or their children, to strike out at him wouldn’t have been worthy of praise. Only stunted, selfish people make pawns of their kids, and I applaud her for not being like most people in this regard.

But much more, it seems, will be made of whatever Edwards decides to do about his relationship with Hunter. As he is kind of in ambiguous widower territory – being separated and a cheater and already a media pariah – his future actions are sure to be a series of lose-lose-lose.

Even if he were to don sackcloth and smear his exposed flesh with ashes to make a knee-scraping pilgrimage to whatever passes for a holy place in his world, the public will still find his actions wanting.

That’s to be expected when one has lied to and humiliated his family, friends and supporters. But though his douche baggery is plain in my opinion, I am not a bit surprised by what he did.

Factor out the reality that men in power positions often succumb to the temptation that they are “all that ” and “entitled”, he was the spouse of  someone who was terminally ill. Having been in those shoes, I can say that it changes the relationship and sometimes the people involved.

My experience is coloured by the fact that my late husband also had dementia, and our not being able to connect on a mental and spiritual level was very isolating for me. I shouldered all the burden for decisions on every conceivable level and I often resented the fact that he wasn’t “available” to bounce off anything of import. But that aside, when you suddenly find yourself more and more caretaker and less and less partners that is a serious relationship imbalance. Add to that the fact that very often, the well-spouse is treated by others as someone whose problems are not serious enough – in comparison to the ill-spouse – to be worthy of empathy, sympathy or even acknowledging, well, disaster recipes have started with fewer ingredients.

Elizabeth’s cancer went super-nova during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Managing a terminal illness and running for office can’t be all that compatible – though the two swore they were up to it. We all think we are up to it.

Hubris is a universal affliction of those stricken and their loved ones. It’s an odd warrior mentality coupled with high school team boosterism. A weird American thing? North American thing?

When the news of his affair with the obligatory “love child” broke, I shrugged. Caretaking spouse cheats. There is no news in this. When one knows that his/her widowhood is inevitable thoughts of the future creep in. They just do though no one would admit to that out loud. Some people will act out and on those thoughts.

As Will deteriorated, all I had left was a choice between living in my memories or planning for the future. I chose to spend most of my inner-space time on the future because the past just seemed like some sort of hell dimension that pulled me towards self-pity and pointless mourning. I did think a lot about whether I would fall in love again someday and towards the very end – when it looked like he might rally and live a while longer in his vegetative state – I began to wonder if I could put my own needs on hold for another year.

It’s not that I had plans to take out an ad on Craigslist or put up a profile on Match.com, but I’d been wandering about the world obviously alone for nearly two years and men were beginning to take notice. And I noticed them noticing.

In the end though, Will had little time left. Just a month and not long into 2006, I was really a widow instead of just sort of one.

But I can understand where men like John Edwards or Terry Schiavo’s husband might have been in their thought processes because I think most people with partners who are dying have let themselves, at the very least, think about loving again.

However, Edwards’ reality is one of a barely married guy who hadn’t been with his wife in a couple of years and was involved with someone else when she died. It’s not heinous that he might be thinking about remarriage because he probably already was.

It doesn’t diminish his grief, which is likely considerable. He and Elizabeth were married a long time and there are children and history involved. He might be a douche, but it doesn’t preclude genuine feelings of loss and regret.

But it doesn’t mean that he won’t move on quickly. Men, generally, and some women, move on quickly. I don’t have patience with folks who are appalled by this because mostly, the outrage centers on artificial etiquette rules and their own personal preferences that refuse to allow the widowed person to be the best judge of their own best interest.

The children though? What of them?

Children have always been appendages of the adult lives they are attached to. They have never had input and that’s probably best. Adults who run their families by majority rule based on the assumption that children are wise and mature as opposed to self-interested, autocratic know-nothings deserve any misery that results, and that includes being saddled one day with adult children who will rule their lives like Russian oligarchs.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the rumors pan out, and so what if they do? It’s hardly anyone’s business outside the immediate Edwards family. If people can’t offer congratulations on the heels of their condolences, they aren’t worth having in your life, in my opinion.

*I am not generally an admirer of Elizabeth Edwards. I feel she got off way to easy for her part in covering up his affair during the primaries. She went out and stumped for him, knowing he was a liar and that his participation in the Democratic bid that year – in any way – could have cost the Dems the White House. Can you imagine Pres. McCain right now?


Graves at Old Holy Cross Cemetery

Image by Fritz Liess via Flickr

Last Thursday, the ghost tickled the crown of Rob’s head while he stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Not an “attaboy”. Rob performs housework without the need for warm affirmations or pats on the head. It was a “heads up”.

So, when the call came later that evening to let us know that his uncle had passed away, the ghostliness of the day made sense.

But it was hardly the only sign this month, lights have been on that shouldn’t have been and there was that incidence with the shadow in Dee’s room. For myself personally, it’s been this persistent feeling that someone was going to die soon. It’s caused me no end of anxiety. First with Dee’s class taking a field trip into the city during the icy weather earlier in the month and then Edie and Silver driving through the mountains to and from Vancouver on their vacation.

It’s not as if we didn’t know about Uncle Francis. He had lung cancer and recently went into hospice, but death comes in threes. It just does. What’s true for the rich and (in)famous holds true for we lesser mortals.

This morning I awoke from a bad dream about a dinosaur trying to bite me (long back story that I’ll go into another day) to see Rob sitting up next to me. At least, I thought it was Rob. The room was Devil’s Den cave midnight. I couldn’t see my own hand when I reached up and then had to bring my hand down to find Rob, who was lying down and asleep next to me.

It was frightening. I sat up and noted that there were dark shadows ringing the bed and then I lay down and went back to sleep.

Tonight, we returned home after depositing Rob’s mom and future step-father at a hotel near the airport. They are heading home on an early flight. A message was waiting on the machine from my mother. My Aunt Peach died last night sometime.

You might remember Peach. I’ve written about her before. She would have been 103 this coming March. She was my grandmother’s youngest sister and the last of the Fagan siblings alive.

Gran lived to 94. She might have gone longer but for the dementia. Uncle Fran and Auntie Anna were 102 and 104 respectively when they passed on. The ones that cancer didn’t get young lived to 75 at the youngest and if they didn’t have bad hearts 90 and beyond. Remarkably long-lived, my dad’s relatives. If Dad hadn’t queered the deal with his drinking and smoking, he’d have cleared 100 easy, I’m sure. He still has two siblings – though I fear for not much longer – who are in their mid-80’s.

Will one of them be the third?

I really hope not though I know many folks who would roll their eyes and say that living to extremely ripe to bursting old age is long enough for anyone, so what’s the big deal?

It is a big deal to die, regardless of when. Death is one of the milestones. It represents fruition – which is a big fucking deal – and opportunity, which is nothing to sneeze at either.

Aunt Peach always made me a bit uncomfortable as a child and teen. She was forceful and larger than life though I towered over her even as a 10-year-old.

The last time I saw her was on our visit to Iowa last spring. She was playing bridge. It took us a good twenty minutes to track her down. No one knew where she was though everyone in the nursing home knew who she was.

She gave Dee a doll and probably more of her interest than she’d given me since I was that age myself. She barely acknowledged Rob or my mother, who was with us.

There’s quite the family reunion going on, if I know my dad’s relations – and I do.

I wonder if they are waiting on anyone?


Reed Family Portrait

It’s no secret that I have little interest in my late husband’s family these days. Will happily threw them, mostly, under the bus to be a part of my family when we married. He assured me even before he met them that if our two families were to ever come together in the same room, mine would be the more civilized, more familial and less bat-shit crazy – no contest.

As his illness progressed and then after his death, his family proved less helpful and even more of a hindrance to progress – mine and Dee’s – than I expected and I pushed them that last curb jump into the transit traffic. All contact is conducted through Hallmark and a bi-annual stash of photos accompanied by a bare bones update on Dee.

And good riddance to them.

But then I married into more extended ties.  Rob brought not only his own family but Shelley’s to our union. And he too assured me that whatever the state of my gene pool, his was a cocktail fit for the trailer park.

Shelley’s family, who had more reason than any to not cotton to the idea of me, opened up the welcome wagon far more generously than many brides are ushered into the fold by their husband’s near and dear. Quirks in perspective, they have never been anything but kind and have graciously taken any issues they might have had directly to Rob and not out on me. I really could not praise them or be grateful enough for their efforts.

His immediate family, after the shock passed, have made tentative moves here and there. Rob’s mother has been most in our lives, a sweet gentle lady who life could have shown more kindnesses but who has risen remarkably above a bad marriage and disappointments that would have embittered many.

She is marrying again. I was not as shocked as Rob when she called to announce her engagement to an American she met on CatholicMatch.com a few months ago.

“When’s the wedding,” I asked.

“June sometime,” Rob said.

“Well, I hope Edie and Silver weren’t planning a June wedding,” I replied and earned his “La-la-la” look because he hates thinking about the reality of his oldest daughter’s quite probably impending nuptials. It makes him feel old in addition to forcing him to think about the fact that someone is sleeping with his daughter. I think that’s probably a dad thing.

It doesn’t help that he is turning fifty this coming year and a wedding with its accompanying threat of future grand-parenthood is just rubbing salt in his mortality issues.

But aside from June possibly being a hectic month for us next year, his mother’s wedding plans dredged up sibling issues.

I have met my sisters-in-law. LW, as you might remember, is widowed and quite mired in her childhood issues as well. Our first meeting involved me raking the lawn of her mother’s house, trying to help Rob get things cleaned up for its sale and their mother’s impending move to British Columbia, and as we worked, she followed me about regaling me with tales of how awful a parent their mom was.

I totally get having been parented in a manner that would horrify the uber parents of today. My own parents did their best but fell short in some critical areas here and there. Most notably would have been Dad’s alcoholism and Mom’s using us to try to change him. Did it screw me up? It left its marks. I struggled as a teen and young adult, but one day, in my early 30’s, I came to the conclusion that my parents – flawed and floundering as they sometimes were – loved me, wanted only joy for me, and if I was ever to have that joy, I had to let go off my hurts – real and imagined.

So I did. Life improved on a lot of fronts in the wake and I am glad I chose to move on.

LW? Not so much. Long story short – we only keep up with her via the Facebook status updates of her pregnant 15-year-old who, as nearly as we can tell, is in some sort of foster care right now. As we are not a receptive audience for her self-pity and self-righteous rage, she isn’t much interested in us either.

Shay is Rob’s other sister. I’ve met her too. She is a tiny woman who gives the impression that at any moment she might pounce on you. Tightly coiled and has led a harder life than most. But she makes an effort to stay in touch and has an attitude about letting sleeping dogs curl up in front of the Ghost of Christmas Past‘s hearth that matches Rob’s.

Tyke is my brother-in-law, and I have never met him. He is the pot-stirrer of the moment.

Rob posted old family photos of his family on Facebook recently. Usually, his family pics are really Shelley’s family pics. For obvious reasons, they are closest and more immediate, but he found some old photos taken of his parents at his wedding to Shelley and pictures of Tyke when he was little and put them up.

Tyke and Rob have a complicated relationship from Tyke’s point of view. They have no relationship at all from Rob’s.

Sixteen years separate them, and Rob was gone and married well before Tyke would have been able to form any solid, fact-based memories and opinions of his big brother.

For his part, Rob views Tyke from the distance that their ages naturally imposed on them. As Tyke was running wild, skipping school and getting into all manner of predicaments that resulted in their mother sending him to live with his dad, Rob was raising a family of his own and taking a squinty-eyed view of Tyke’s behavior.

Tyke commented on three of the photos Rob posted to his FB account. The first one was taken on Rob and Shelley’s wedding day by an unknown relative. It features his mother, father and mother-in-law.

“My,” I said, “look at the way your Dad is looking at your Mom. He’s obviously still in love with her.”

At this point in time, Rob’s mother had left his dad. My late father-in-law had trouble with alcohol and a temper that found its release all over Rob’s mother. She left him just two years earlier.

Shay’s teen daughter commented on that photo, amazed by her grandmother’s beauty. My mother-in-law has those exotic Hungarian features that grace Rob as well and a beautiful body for a woman who’d had four children and was in her early forties at the time.

MomInLaw replied, thank you, and Tyke commented that perhaps his niece was  brown-nosing a bit too much.

“What’s brown-nosing,” she replied. She’s sixteen and, let’s face it, that’s an archaic term.

Rob stepped in. Tempers sparked a bit.

Two other photos featured Tyke as either a toddler or a child. The picture of him with a handgun would only be disturbing if it were taken today. A boy with a gun in the wilds of the Canadian Prairies was not such a big deal in the 1980’s.

More comments. More sparks.

And then the bomb dropped, MomInLaw innocently remarked about her fiance and upcoming marriage … which she apparently forgot to tell Tyke about and forgot that she’d forgotten.

Tyke is a bit like my youngest sister, Baby. His blinkered view of the world confines him to mostly him. No one else’s issues – good, bad or indifferent – really get much consideration.

And to be fair, his life sucks. If being able to puke up the saddest tale of woe was a game show, he’d clean up.

He has no education. Seriously, none. Dropped out of the 8th grade. Worked roofing under the table for his ex-father-in-law until he was diagnosed with Lupus in his early 20’s. The disease attacked and destroyed his kidneys, so he’s been on dialysis for a number of years with not much hope of a transplant because his unrepentantly bad lifestyle choices have made him a “risk”. Translated that means the medical establishment doesn’t want to waste a good kidney on someone they are fairly certain will ruin it in short order.*

In addition, he is housebound due to the nightly dialysis. He can’t receive government disability because he never paid into the tax system and his ex-wife cuckolded him on Facebook of all places.

He has a lot of reasons to be angry … with himself, but like most people whose foolishness or willfulness have brought them to their days of reckoning decades too soon, he prefers to place blame on his family.

Rob is the favorite son and he is the loser. Rob got his great life handed to him while Tyke was foiled by one and all. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I have actually heard all this before. From my own younger brother, CB. More than once he’s compared our lives and accused me of having it “too easy”.

“Really?” I asked. “And which ‘easy’ were you envious of? The fact that I remained single until I was 34 or had to go through IVF to have a child or the fact that my husband died?”

“But you have a good job,” he stammered a bit, ” and a house.”

“I worked for those, remember. The whole going to college and wage slaving away thing?”

“Dad paid for your college though and he didn’t offer to help me.” Indignant now.

“I worked my way through school, and perhaps you’ve forgotten who funded your lost ski bum years while I was living off rice and beans as a teacher?”

Baby has similar delusions about the foundations of my awesome life.

As Tyke does of Rob.

But the thing that sticks most in Tyke’s craw is the fact that in spite of the fact that he’s been mean and mostly unlikable his entire life – no one in the family will volunteer to give him a kidney.

“Not one of you cares enough even to get tested to see if you match!”

But it’s not that simple and the fact that Tyke refuses to acknowledge the sacrifice that would be expected to follow a positive match is at the heart of the reluctance.

The first time Tyke asked for a kidney, Shelley had just died three months earlier. Rob stopped in Calgary on his way to the U.S. where he was taking her ashes to spread in various places that had meant something special to the two of them over the course of the 27 years they’d been together. At the time, Rob substituted much-needed cash for the kidney Tyke really wanted – though he took the money easily enough.

One might sympathize with Tyke’s desperate request even in the face of Rob’s grief if they didn’t know that when Shelley was first diagnosed, Tyke had commented to his mother that he didn’t see what the big deal was. He, after all had just 10% of his kidney function left while she had “just a little growth on her leg”. A “little growth” at stage 4.

I could be shocked but I’m not. Baby once compared her low-life boyfriend’s upcoming four-month stint in county lock-up for a parole violation to the fact that my husband would soon be dead. And I, according to her, didn’t have as much to complain about.

So rounding back to the recent FB tiffle – which continues on in the form of incoherent rants arriving in Rob’s message inbox – Tyke blasted Rob again for not submitting to type matching.

“But you aren’t really eligible now after the heart attack,” I pointed out. “He knows that, right?”

Rob shrugged. “I don’t know what he ‘knows’ sometimes but I’m tired of being his punching bag whenever his childhood rears its ugly head. I sit here and read his words and feel my chest tightening and my heart hurt.”

Which is enough for me to toss Tyke under the bus with my dead husband’s in-laws, but he’s not my brother. If he were my brother, I’d let him have – both barrels, unfriend, have a nice life. I resent the stress he’s causing Rob because he’s not grown up enough to admit that he’s angry his mother forgot about him and jealous of the fact that he isn’t her favorite.

I wasn’t my Dad’s favorite. DNOS was. And I used to resent it. But eventually I grew up and realized that “favorite” and “loved” aren’t the same thing. I was not someone my Dad could be “friends” with, but I was his daughter and he loved me.

In the end, Rob will find the exact measure of tact or Tyke will wear himself out. What will not happen is Tyke being struck by a maturity bolt from the blue because I have been waiting for that to hit CB and Baby for the last twenty plus years to no avail and baby siblings who strive hard to hang onto the immaturity mantle have tenacious grips.

*Getting an organ transplant here is not just a matter of need and queuing up. Age, lifestyle and willingness to follow the strict drug protocol after the fact are all used to decide who gets the organs that become available. It seems brutal, but it’s more fair than the U.S. system that almost throws organs away by giving them to people who aren’t going to make the best use of a precious resource for whatever reason.


The quaintly cliché notion that surrounds terminal illness has no better friend than fiction.

I suppose if one has never watched another die than the idea that fleeting finality will coalesce into heartwarming relationship building that shores the foundations of love so that it may bear the separation and even jump-start positive growth experiences is comforting. As it is meant to be. But it’s not real.

Rob and I watched Kevin Kline’s 2001 film entitled Life as a House last evening. Of course, Kline’s character is dying. Naturally he is estranged from his child, ex-wife and living life in general prior to receiving his personal wake up call. And as most dying people do, he decides to demo the shack he lives in – interestingly situated on prime California ocean front property – to build a new home to leave to his sixteen year old son.

Although, the house is the least of what Kline’s character hopes to leave behind, a loft full of death-fueled ambition propels this man.

And it’s predictable. Epiphanies pop like flower buds in the morning sun after a night’s rain. Good is rewarded and annoying folk awarded their comeuppance.

Kline’s character dies more convincingly than 99.9% of the screen deaths I have seen. Having stood bedside myself, I am morbidly critical of fake death. His last moments struck truth. Not that I care all that much to see accurate death-bed scenes, but I hate it when they are prettied up.

Admittedly, given Rob’s recent heart attack, Dee’s birthday with all its memories, and it being the season of “anniversaries”*, we probably should’ve watched that horrid Vince Vaughan tripe holiday throwaway I found the last time we were at the book mobile.

But we are fond of Kline. He’s also worth watching. Vince? Not so much.

What’s stuck with me today though is  the lessons thing. That when someone becomes so ill that death is inevitable, those around learn something from that person’s grace under pressure example. Dying people are seen as sages and their loved ones gather at their feet like disciples at the Last Supper.

It’s not like that. Love is more often left hanging on whatever peg it was carelessly allowed to dangle on and recalcitrant children opt to revert even further to the typecasting of their younger selves. Neighbors more often decide to scuttle like roaches than step up and words are left unsaid that need to be spoken and shouted that should be swallowed.

The whole stoic saint persona was/continues to be the most difficult for me.

Rob’s recent brush with acute illness sharply reminded me that I function better in long seige conditions and not in the initial skirmishes when the enemy’s unknown and the terrain is new.

But I did like the house analogy. Death is a metaphor’s goldmine. To me it makes total sense that the old is razed and the new is rebuilt atop. Phoenix from ash. Apt.

I dream a lot about houses. They are never finished and I am usually in transit from one to another. They are always in the college town of long ago, which symbolically makes no sense aside from the education aspect.

I wonder sometimes what it will mean if I should ever dream that I am in a finished house. Of course, I will have to actually live in one first as I need a template.

Three houses passed university and not one ever “done”. Now there is a better analogy for my life.

Best line – “Change can be so slow that you don’t know if your life is better or worse until it is.” That, thank goodness, is not one of my analogies.

*I think the whole anniversary of deaths, non-birthdays, non-wedding anniversaries and – worst of all, in my own opinion – the idea that events leading up to deaths should be observed in any way are products of a society lulled into the false belief that death is the trauma that keeps on refueling. And that ‘s it better to acknowledge and acquiecse to it than simply acknowledge and get back to daily life. I read accounts of people who literally lose weeks to gearing up and ramping down. If I took time out to do more than simply recall that “oh yeah, that happened today”, I would never get up off the floor in the corner I was curled up in. I’d be like that old SNL skit. “Yes, the late Mr. Loomis used to lay in a basket by the door. He had no spine, you know. God rest his soul.”  If grief is a 12 step process, and I suspect strongly that it isn’t, it’s not productive to recycle it yearly. No good can come out of  that kind of hindsight flogging.