dealing with elderly parents

A Christmas tree inside a home.

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There are two tones the holiday letter can take – bragging to the point of possibly delusion or so much information you aren’t sure you want to ever see the author, or their family, in person ever again in this lifetime.  I would say that most fall comfortably in the middle with just enough rah-rah to promote gladness as opposed to jealousy and just the right amount of gossipy goodness to make it worth the time it takes to read it.

I am lazy as you know and go for the total slide show sappy approach, but when I do write about family, I tend to err on the side of “feed the voyeur troll” though not in a merry way.  TMI does not belong in a holiday greetings missive.

It is fair game for the blog though I will grant that some family don’t share my view on this.

The Brother

CB resurfaced not long after his scary low with a surprisingly yoga outlook for someone who doesn’t know a down from an up dog. He decided to cut ties with the Bay area and head back to the Sierra Nevada’s and Tahoe. Mountains stabilize him. He is like Rob really in that they both need to commune with the actual wilderness. Rob just gets grumpy within the confines of civilization, but CB’s doors come unhinged if he is away too long.

As of this post, CB has a snow removal job that is simply awaiting snow and call backs on a few contract gigs. Mother has even agreed to foot the purchase of a used vehicle which will in turn facilitate more employment. His kids and xSIL are spending the holidays with him in his new place atop Heavenly and I imagine that a bit of skiing and hiking is just what the doctor ordered right about now.

The Mother-in-law

The whole divorce and upheaval is becoming a bit of a testy issue for Rob and I. Her not being my mother means I am less subjective when he would prefer that I be more indignant for her. Like he is. But he is her son and I think mother/daughter relationships are not so blinkered. Maybe this is due to the fact that sons don’t typically separate from their mothers as violently as daughters do during the teen years, or maybe it is because at some point, mothers and daughters become “women” to each other and you know how judgey we can be. Whatever the reason, I don’t see the situation in black and white terms, and this is coupled with the fact that I can also clearly see the impact this marriage has had on our life over the last year, and how the fallout could inadvertently render us collateral damage in terms of clean up.

“She just needs time to come around to the realities of her new situation,” Rob told me during one of our many conversations on the topic of divorcing across international borders.

“If she were my mother,” I replied, “I’d have already spelled the realities out for her.”

“You can’t tell her anything,” he reminds me.

And I know that. You can’t tell my mother anything either, but that doesn’t mean I don’t tell her when she is being unreasonable, or when her choices come loaded with the high probability that they will impact me negatively in the near or far future.

Sigh, I do love my mother-in-law, but I can’t pretend that I am unaware of why things are as they are.

“If something happens to you,” I asked him. “Do I inherit her? Or is she like an heirloom to be passed on to the girls?”

“Funny,” he replied, but it’s not.

I share the responsibility of my mother with DNOS and not equally. Because she is on the ground and I am a thousand-ish miles away, DNOS is a front line defender should something happen.

Rob is his mother’s only line of defense by default.  DNOS has me.  Rob can count on a zombie apocalypse occurring before one of his siblings lifts a finger to come to the aid of their mother.  And that sucks.  For Rob.  And for me.

How things will turn out is still an unknown. As Yoda once said the future is difficult to see because it is always in motion. So many things in play. Future xFIL included.* I will not be amused though if this ends up costing us significant time or any more money that it already has.**

Baby’s Corner

I was chatting with DNOS the other night when she mentions her recent encounter with our youngest sibling.

“She called Mom to come get her when she had a flat, but of course Mom can’t see to drive in the dark anymore. So she had to call N1 and his dad. They got the tire changed and brought her to Mom’s.”

“How was she?” I asked. My interest in Baby is even less than DNOS’s interest in CB.***

“She’s looking old,” DNOS clucked.

“Well,” I said, “I thought she looked tough when I saw her over the summer. She can’t have aged more in such a short period of time.”

DNOS sighed, “Oh gawd, yes.  She looks older than either of us.”

Which is sad because she is just 43 and I looked pretty damn good at that age.

“How’s LawnMowerMan?”

“He lost his job when the farmer sold his cows and his back is too bad for him to work,” DNOS chuckled. “Baby says he’s been approved for disability.”

“That’s bullshit,” I replied. “It takes at least two years to get on disability for something like that.”

I know because I spent 10 months getting my late husband approved for disability and he was dying. LawnMowerMan will likely die younger than he should but he’s nowhere close at the moment.

But DNOS went on to say that Baby is working full-time at the nursing home and is supporting them both, which is ironic because Baby’s back problems are easily worse than that no account drunk she lives with and defends with the all the passion of Michele Bachmann at a rally for the sanctity of marriage.

It’s funny how nothing much changes with Baby. I was just recalling for Rob a Christmas about 20 or so years ago when she forced Mom to invite her boyfriend Len to the Christmas Eve festivities. They were “living together” and by that I mean they were couch surfing his wide circle of acquaintances, carting everything they owned in paper grocery sacks from hovel to hovel. Sadly, Len was probably the nicest guy she ever knew. Far as I know, he was the only one who never hit her. Early thirties, a bit punch drunk and missing his upper front teeth, she left him when he refused to have a baby with her.  She wanted to go back on welfare.  N1 kinda owes his existence to her laziness.


The California experiment was a failure. N1 is back in his grandmother’s attic. And that’s really all I know, but CB spoke to him last week and remarked, “I don’t think much has changed.”

Speaking of Change

Last Christmas the front half of our home was just barely rehabbed from its total gutting. Today there is a brand new kitchen and living area. Silver and xFIL were newbies, and now Silver is a permanent fixture and xFIL has been kicked to the Arizona curbside.

In Silver, and with the addition of Mick’s fella , Dare, I have inherited interesting dining challenges via one’s gluten intolerance and the other’s deathly nut allergy.

We’ve also encountered the interesting phenomena of Christmas musical chairs as we struggle to nail down day and time for our holiday gathering. Rob finds it perplexing because he is old enough school to have been simply absorbed into his wife’s family and holiday time-table, both times. That’s not really the way it works for all men but most bow to the wife and her family traditions.

Silver’s family usurped our Christmas Eve tradition and Dare’s mother has claimed all day Christmas.

“Boxing Day?” Rob asked.

But there was no way that Dee could hold out on opening presents until Boxing Day. She barely made it ’til Christmas Day last year.

As of today, I know only that I am cooking meals both days and whoever shows up will be eating them. The business of the gifts is yet to be decided.


And so we come to the end of the anti-letter, which is not to say that the year was so heinous that it deserves one, but to remind that there is dark and white meat on every bird. My life is no different from anyone else’s. There are highs, lows and inbetween’s.

Happy Holidays to all and if you missed the year-end pictorial, it’s right here.

*He’s written letters to everyone who knows MIL, pleading with them to help him patch things up.  I still don’t dislike the guy.  He reminded me of all those things about my dad, which were sharp-edged and old-school.  That kind of man is not to my personal taste, but I am not 70 years old either. Older people marry for reasons that go beyond the romantic love and sex that drives younger people. This is not to say that they don’t experience it, but companionship, someone to take care of you and a pooling of resources enter into it in probably bigger ways than it does with younger couples.

** They came as a couple last Christmas and we put them up in a hotel for a week, which xFIL never offered to reimburse us for – even a little and there was the whole “moving” thing in August.

***DNOS would never admit to it, but she loves to get news about CB. She adores family gossip.

"It's YOUR time to SHINE in 2009!"

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And at the risk of sounding shrill as I repeat myself, “unless someone is dead or nearly so, don’t call me!” Really. I mean it.

The latest non-life threatening emergency that presented itself for my immediate attention is the ongoing drama surrounding my older nephew’s premature entry into the adult world.

I am standing in the check out at Safeway yesterday and the phone ringles. It’s the oddest ring tone but the least annoying of the generic options available to me as I don’t (yet) possess a smart phone with all its sci-fi tone upgrading capabilities.

Snatching it up as quickly as the confounding zip locks on my purse will allow, I am expecting a request from Rob. I’d spoken to him a bit earlier, so he knew I was shopping and I thought perhaps he remembered something he wanted me to pick up while I was still in town.

It was Mom.

Since day one of cell phone ownership, Mom’s treated my cell as a homing device. I knew she would. In fact my chief objection to getting a phone was Mom.

“She will see this as permission to track me like an endangered animal on the plains of the Serengeti,” I told my late husband, Will.

He wanted me to have one so that I would “be safe”, but the truth was that he just liked having the same type of instant access to me that I didn’t want to hand over to Mom.

“You can screen her calls with the caller ID,” he said.

“Because having her call me over and over until I picked up would be better than just picking up,” I replied.

I still lost on the issue of carrying a cell phone and Mom went from her habit of leaving me multiple messages on the answering machine to simply stalking me by cell phone if I didn’t answer the home line. The cell phone thing has worked out nicely for everyone but me no matter how one looks at it.

Because it’s the middle of the day on a Tuesday, I know right away that Mom isn’t calling to ask me how my day is going. Like DNOS, weekday calls mean that something is wrong.

“I need to talk to you,” she began.

“I’m standing in the check out at the grocery. Can I call you when I get out to the truck?”

“Okay,” and she hangs up on me before I can even say “good-bye”.

Naturally, I am in the lane of the cashier who least loves her job. She is a dour woman, who moves at the speed of drying paint, so by the time I get to the truck, I have run through a dozen desperate scenarios – which all involve dead or near so relations.

“I’m so worried about N1,” she tells me. “He was up here yesterday for a visit. I made him his favorite lasagna and he couldn’t even eat.”

Mentally, I note that the drama queen gene is overly represented in my nephew, but say,

“Why is he upset this time?”

I’m expecting that he’s made another pitch for a car or asked her to co-sign a lease on an apartment for him because he and his dad are continually at odds, but she tells me that she thinks it’s about his wanting to go to community college and study mechanics.

It’s about no such thing, of course. N1 launched a campaign over the summer to be allowed to move back to D-port, where he went to high school. His dad moved them there a couple of years ago. N1 fell in with a group of older kids – drop-outs to varying degrees – lost interest in school and then quit himself when his dad moved them back to DBQ last winter. He’s moped about ever since, plotting to move back and get a place with some of them and work at a fast food place that someone’s grandmother owns.

It’s a seventeen year old plan and that about sums up the long, short and every which way of it. There is no merit to it. It won’t further his life in any meaningful way because at the end of the experiment (which is where he loses the job, can’t pay his share of the rent or make up the difference his friends won’t be paying either and Mom is stuck with the bill), nothing is gained by way of N1 being even marginally closer to the “contributing adult” status that is fervently wished for by all.

“I think he might be severely depressed,” Mom went on. “Who knows what he might do?”

And I’m thinking now? What the fuck? And why couldn’t she have burdened DNOS with this nonsense after she got off work?

But my wiser younger sis, DNOS, refuses to have anything to do with the half-assed attempts to first aid our nephew’s life. As far as she is concerned, when N1 gets tired of lying in the lumpy mess of a bed he’s made for himself, he will do something related to “constructive” and until he makes a move in a positive direction without help or coercion, he is best left to flounder.

Good point on the “he needs to do this himself” front but it overlooks the fact that N1 is a kid who has mostly been raising himself, and badly, since he was 13. Even before that, parenting isn’t something he’s had too much of.

After fifteen minutes and much reassurance, I talked Mom back off the ledge she tearfully teetered on and promised to talk to N1.

Who wouldn’t give me his damn phone number when I messaged him on Facebook for it.

I’d had it, couldn’t find it and asked him to send it to me. Little monster would only talk to me via “chat”.


And no, I didn’t tell him how much like his mother he was behaving though I was sorely tempted. Baby won’t talk to me in real time either.

Back and forth over the course of the afternoon and evening led me to the conclusion that N1 was playing the drama card for a bit of sympathy from Grandma. In fairness, she is as close to a mother figure as he’s got. It didn’t have to be that way, but I failed time and time again to get custody of N1 while he was growing up. My last attempt came just before he entered middle school and I warned my parents then that it was unlikely that I would be able to take him once he hit his teens for real and they would rue the day they turned me down.*

As per her request, I called Mom back that evening to let her know how N1 was. We discussed again my brother CB’s offer to have N1 come out and live with him in Cali.

DNOS is adamant that N1 not go, but she is hopelessly biased. Baby really hasn’t said how she feels about it except to reiterate her inability to foot his room/board in any way. I don’t know how his dad feels. At the moment, his father seems to be wallowing in regret over his own wasted life**, so he isn’t much use.

For all his faults, CB has been a pretty good father and N1 needs a father. CB was also once a 17-year-old high school drop-out with nothing but more ideas than capital and a GED. He certainly has the right credentials for understanding just what N1 is up against in the real world that the kid hasn’t clue one about navigating.

N1 admitted to “thinking about calling Uncle”. We went back and forth and then he stopped responding.

What he will do now, I haven’t the slightest idea. He’s a lot like his mother. He hates the unknown and invents all sorts of worst case scenarios to justify avoiding change, and while he makes friends easily in new situations, he loses them just as quickly. Partly because he trusts where he shouldn’t and distrusts where he should be more open. It’s a gift he inherited from Baby, who has only rarely lucked into good friends and never into a good relationship.

The last meddling I did was at Mom’s behest. I contacted CB and asked him to talk to N1.

And now, let’s all remember – dead or nearly so – anything else really needs to be referred to someone who actually lives south of the Canadian border.

*And I get no pleasure out of this particular “I told you so” because N1 needed a parent. I can only guess where he’d be today if Baby would have given in and let me raise him the first time I asked when he was two, and there is no sense crying over the spilled milk, but few things make me as angry as adults who waste the little lives that life puts in their care. A wasted child is one of the saddest sights. I encountered so many children as a teacher who were ruined by crappy and/or indifferent parenting.

**He was a 19 year old high school drop-out when Baby got pregnant. She was 25 or 26. N1’s dad was a foil. She used him to try and make the real objective of her attention – a mutual friend of theirs – jealous. This guy, though a royal sleeze, was wise enough to realize that Baby was looking for a baby-daddy. She missed being on welfare.

The only "protective custody" availa...

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At least for a few more weeks according to my older nephew N1, who at my behest called his mother, Baby, last night to tell her  – from me – that ignoring my calls would not make the situation go away. Fortunately, DNOS had already managed to get my rock star sister to take a call and proceeded to royally ream her backward ass, setting her straight on the new world order.

Baby cried persecuted to her son though he informed me that he didn’t believe a word of it, and when I spoke to Mom late Sunday afternoon, the harassing phone calls had stopped.

This was not before she received at least two more after her trip to the police station and was a nervous wreck.

As I chatted with Mom, I called her the traces of anxiety and exhaustion in her voice. This latest incident with Baby being a baby strained her, but unlike times past, she didn’t cave. She’s determined that the Bank of Mom is closed, and she hinted at “other changes”, which can’t be good for Baby. Whereas my dad didn’t believe in punishing us from the grave, Mom is perfectly capable of playing behavior accountant from beyond. Dad was a hammer in the moment, but Mom had the longer memory and could wait patiently for the right opportunity to throw youthful indiscretion squarely back at you when the moment presented itself.

LawnMower Man is on work release, so apparently he was tormenting Mom before or after milking and field work at the farm where he is one of several hired men. My late husband, Will, used to refer to such a set up as “baby jail”. An old high school friend of his wound up in a similar program early in our marriage, and he was mercilessly teased about it.

Between Baby’s broken back and LawnMower Man’s incarceration, they are a hurting financial unit. In days of yore, he would simply phone Mom and inform her that if she didn’t help them out, he would pack Baby up and dump her on Mom’s doorstep. Since the beginning of the year, however, DNOS and I have made it clear that there is no way on any level of hell that we’d allow her to take Baby back. Normally, Mom listens to us not even the littlest bit, but we’ve made surprising headway in the influence department and Baby’s going to have a difficult time getting out of the corner DNOS and I have left her to manuver this time.

“She has the numbers of all the women’s shelters,” Mom told me. “It’s time she got herself out of her own messes.”

Forty-three at the end of the month, she looks a decade older and telegraphs “poor white trash” with her every word and action. No one in the family has an ounce of patience left. If she had  real emergency right now, she had to rely on the kindness of strangers quite literally because anyone who knows her is done with her. She’s played too many people and the chickens are roosting for real in the yard of the possibly condemned trailer she lives in.

Hear No Evil Monkey

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Not long ago, I told my mother and my sister, DNOS, that I preferred to be kept in the dark about the various implosions that occur in the family – especially if I haven’t the power to do anything about them. After all, I live in another country. It’s a 24 hour drive if I push it and can take nearly as long if I fly given the absolutely appalling state of current day air travel. My knowing, therefore, is essentially the same as my not knowing because there is precisely jack-squat I can do for them.

When we were in the Okanagan last week, my dad’s older sister – who is 88 years old – suffered a mild heart attack.  DNOS called and I always know something is up when she calls me at any time other than evening or god awful early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Week day mid-morning? Something has happened.

Of course, there was nothing I could do. Auntie is old. Her health has been precarious this last year.  She is 88. Even in my dad’s family, where relatives can easily live to see 100, 88 is still pretty fucking old.  So, while I attempted to impose order onto my MIL’s decamping from her condo, I worried about Auntie; about Mom, who doesn’t do stress well at all anymore; and about DNOS, who doesn’t do stress all that well herself of late.

And it was fine. Auntie is home and hooked up to Lifeline and recovering nicely.

After the whole near death experience with Baby earlier in the summer, I had an opportunity to be home and let interested parties know that unless someone was dead or near enough that it’s a certainty – don’t call me.  I don’t need the stress for one thing, but mostly, nobody listens to a word I say when the shite is flying off the fan anyway. Even though, a lot of the time, my advice is spot on.

Oh, I am sure they listen, you think.

No.  If the Auntie incident wasn’t proof – and I let that go because Auntie is DNOS’s godmother and they are close – today would convince you, my skeptical reader.

We went into the city to see Mick and run a few errands. A trip like this is a half day-ish affair. Driving is just a side-effect of living in the part of Canada that we do, so when DNOS didn’t find me at home, she immediately falls back on my cell. Nevermind that it’s a piece of crap that is off due to battery life issues more than it’s on or that I just as often don’t have it on me. So when it went off as we drove home, I already knew that something was likely amiss.

“What’s up?” I ask after being greeted by DNOS on the other end of the transmission.

She always greets me cordially before launching into the true nature of her call. Something that I almost find worthy of a chuckle.

“Lawnmower Man is harassing Mom for money. He’s just out of jail and has been calling her since last night, telling her if she doesn’t help them out he will be forced to pack Baby up and dump her on Mom’s doorstep.”

Jail? Again.

Apparently for OWI number four. He’s a hopeless alcoholic*, which makes it ironic that Baby, given the hysteria she had over our father’s drinking problem, would tangle herself up with a guy who makes Dad look like a teetotaler by comparison.

“I want Mom to call the police, but she won’t.”

DNOS’s voice was a bit quavering and as she goes on to tell me she even called Baby to try to put a stop to the harassment, I know it’s serious. Both of our younger siblings are effectively “dead” to her. She wouldn’t call either one to warn them of the coming Apocalypse.

“So you want me to talk to her?” I asked.

“Yes, I called Baby and now LawnMower Man has my number!”

I hear a voice in the background and she continues,

“BIL says it’s not a big deal because we have guns.”

I relayed that bit to Rob after and he laughed. Rob would love to be similarly equipped but we’re Canadians.

Promising her I would call mother as soon as I got home, she hung up only to call me back and let me know that Mom had decided to go to the police station. She wanted to go there rather than have a patrol car come to the house. She didn’t want the neighbors to know. I don’t know why. The neighbors have long thought we were mere millimeters from white trash anyway.

A trip to the cop shop and a few more back and forth long distance convo’s later and all is fine.

LawnMower Man is on work release, so he is technically still in custody. Mom has reluctantly agreed to change the locks on her doors though not until after the holiday weekend because it will cost too much to have the locksmith up today. This after I went on at her last spring for installing new doors and locks and giving that idiot baby sister of mine another key in the first place. See what I mean about “no one listens to me”?

Since the drunk in question is incarcerated when not milking cows, Mom feels secure enough to sleep in her own home for the time being. DNOS was content with this as well. Problem probably solved.

But not really because I had to know about it in the first place! However, I got to be worked up into a frenzy about it and they will ignore the other things I suggested should be done to keep this from happening again – until the next time it happens. And it will. Baby has a lifetime history of trusting anyone but her own family. She won’t walk about this relationship.

“Next life time,” I told Rob, “It’s orphaned and childless for us.”

“Next marriage, ” he replied, “I’m going to do a better job of screening applicants.”

“I did warn you,” I reminded him.

He nodded, “Indeed, and there will be no more marriages. Two wives with colorful family is enough for me.”

*Just to make it a completely interesting weekend, Rob’s homeless niece and her drunkard/drug abusing other of some significance are house/animal sitting for Edie and Silver. I shudder at the possibility for ugly fallout that might cause, but Edie and Mick are determined to give their cousin every chance even at risk to themselves.

I got into the habit of calling my dad in the late afternoon during his last months. It was a good time of day to catch him awake and it helped me feel as though I was doing something because his insistence that I not come effectively blocked me from action. One thing I learned during Will’s illness and after his death was that movement was a good thing. It helped. It’s kind of like taking a walk after eating, helps speed the crap through.

Sometimes I still call in the afternoon though Mom doesn’t appreciate frequent base touching. She is a grouchy old woman that way. Nearing 80 and indignant about the changing of the guards as DNOS and I are now treating her more like our children than our mother in some ways.

Calling was a risk. I had spoken with DNOS over the weekend. She reads my blog and called me wanting to express thanks for my sticking up for her while still trying to remain as neutral as possible. In the course of our conversation, I got her side of the story and wasn’t surprised to learn that Mom had overstated a bit of certain points.

DNOS walks a tightrope that I am familiar with but I am too far away physically to be much more than an ear for her.

“Don’t talk to Mom about this anymore,” she asked me.

Which is where the risk comes in. Mom knows that I talk with DNOS and when things are tense between them, she will casually question me about what I might know. Since I am way done with secret keeping, I tell her.

She didn’t like it. 

It’s my opinion – which I expressed to both of them – that they need to talk. Air out feelings. Discuss expectations. And on Mom’s part, finally bury the roles she assigned us as teens and young adults and start seeing us for who we are now.

Mom is one of those people who can’t forget. In the heat of anything, she will dredge up incidents from long past that she has relied upon to define people and set the rules for the relationships she has. She did this with Dad all the time, and while she had good cause to be angry about the wasted years his drinking cost their marriage, it was pointless and time wasting in its own way once he was sober and in declining health. 

I told DNOS that I thought Mom was dealing with a lot of regret and that Dad’s approaching birthday and then the anniversary of his death this coming October were going to make interacting with her less than optimal for a while to come.

I reminded Mom of a time when I was about 10 months out when I simply went off on her over the phone and then refused to pick up her calls for several days. It was DNOS who finally convinced me to relent. It was a stupid thing. I had called to just vent about Dee. I was tired of being her sole caregiver. Not like that was anything new. I had always been a single mom because of the circumstances, but I was under pressure at work because the statute of limitations was up on sympathy for me there, I was struggling with my inability to eat without pain and first anniversaries loomed. Mom tried to compare her struggles as a young mother with my situation. I wasn’t having it. I was totally out of line. It really doesn’t matter how much you hurt, lashing out is wrong. There will always be people who don’t understand or whose experiences don’t mirror your own or your philosophies on dealing. Grown-ups deal. They do not throw tantrums or pick fights.

Mom didn’t remember that incident, but I went on to explain that she might be feeling as she does because she is grieving hard right now and that her perceptions of the gift card incident and the sale of Dad’s car might be colored by this.

Of course she fell back on trying to make me feel guilty.

“I guess I am just a bad person.”

I reassured her as best as I could and pressed the issue of the need to talk with DNOS and let it go.

“Shaping up to be a great visit for us in October,” Rob commented when I told him. 

The October visit has the earmarks of stress all over it, but I promised to attend a wedding in Des Moines and I have a best friend there who needs a shoulder, so we are going. I feel bad for Rob though. 

I expect this will hit another dramatic high or two before it plays itself out.

Mom called me Thursday afternoon. Because it was the tenth anniversary of my marriage to my late husband, I thought for a brief second she may have remembered. But the phone call was about her. Another streak unbroken.

“DNOS sold your father’s car,” she informed me. “And I am pissed.”

The car, if you remember, was a huge bone of contention in the days following Dad’s death last October. My brother, CB, was desperate for Mom to sign it over to him because he didn’t have a reliable vehicle back in Nevada and the truth was that without dependable wheels, he was never going to find work. But DNOS would not hear of it. CB behaved poorly during Dad’s last days and even worse in the aftermath. They don’t get along anyway, but DNOS was Dad’s favorite. She was the one who shouldered the load during his illness. She thought that CB should have manned up and acted his age instead of mining his childhood grievances. He was miffed that no one would at least allow him the right to have issues with the way he was parented. They are both a little right and a little wrong.

In the end, I sided with DNOS. I am the swing vote. I swung incorrectly in this instance. DNOS sold the car in the spring – without a word to Mom – because she wanted the money to pay for repairs to her jeep. Mom had signed the title over to her but on the condition that the car would be available for Nephew1 when he turned sixteen next year. DNOS did not mention the sale of the car until Mom showed up at her house yesterday and asked where it was.

It isn’t a huge deal really. Nephew1 will undoubtedly nag Mom into buying him a beater anyway and my cousin’s husband runs an autobody shop where such vehicles show up regularly. The issue is the money. DNOS, apparently, helped herself to grocery gift cards that Mom had in the house while Mom was visiting us in July. About $400 dollars worth of script which DNOS claims was just $200 and that she “borrowed” to give to BabySis who was broke and begging while Mom was gone.

DNOS has repaid the $200 she claims she borrowed for BabySis, but the kicker is that BabySis had no idea what Mom was talking about when Mom brought it up to her over the past weekend. BabySis was begging again for cash to buy cigarrettes (how does one find the balls to ask for ciggie money from a woman whose husband died from lung cancer?) and Mom reminded her of the $200.

“DNOS never gave me any gift cards.”

Here’s the bottom line. DNOS was Dad’s favorite and she used him like a private credit union, borrowing and repaying in amounts and on terms that only the two of them knew. Dad is dead. DNOS’s spending habits live on.

Mom had a conversation with DNOS about everything. What did she say?

“Don’t tell Annie.”

As if. I am most likely to hear from our mother when things are awry.

I told her what I thought she should do. Whether she will do it or not is debatable. I didn’t even entertain the thought of calling my sister. I like my sister. I like her husband and her son. And I know, more than anyone I think, just how taxing the caregiving she did for Dad was and how much heavier the burden was because I upped and remarried and left the country. I don’t feel like causing a rift between us because Mom has been unclear about her new position on handouts to her children and grandchildren. I handed Mom my two cents, Canadian, and she will do what she will do. I did tell her this,

“I could go all drama about the unfairness where money has always been concerned in our family and remind you of the differing standards you and Dad had for each of us kids, and how DNOS, and me especially, where always left to fend for ourselves even in times of crisis, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what do you want to do with your money and what is your criteria for lending money and giving away possessions now.”

The cosmos just knows when you are burdened to the point of mental dizziness, loaded up like a wagon cart heading for the promised land which just happens to lie a couple thousand miles off – past the prairies, over the Rockies and across the desert. It also knows that the only thing you are likely to find is a junior wife position in the Lion’s House.

Things stack up. A little bit at a time, but eventually there is nowhere left to pile. Kind of like the inside of MIL#1’s double wide. An Oprah intervention in the making.

For the last week my younger brother, CB, has been calling to vent his spleen and general mental unhingedness on me. While I continue to feel quite badly for him, I am not unaware that he needs me more as a go between than as shoulder. He gets nowhere with our parents when he is in one of his “moods” and though it seems to me that he is no longer effing his life up on purpose, it is really effed up, and he is going to need some cash to start righting it. Cash, by the way, is not something that a 42 year old high school drop-out armed with just a GED and a couple of decades worth of working under the table contracting is going to be able to come up with easily in the economy today.

Because Dad has been ill and largely unable to hold up his end of a conversation, I have been reduced to leaning a bit on Mom. Have I ever mentioned that she is not a crisis manager? Pressure and Mom mix like oil and water.

I know I am heartless, but I believe that despite what they have given monetarily to CB in the past – they still owe him a bit more. The sum he needs to escape Marin and retreat to Tahoe to “get a grip” is pocket change to the parental units. My position is pay him. It will ease the situation for a while, and we could all use that.

However, another wrinkle – that sly universe again – came into play when Dad’s doctors hospitalized him yesterday. Pneumonia and fluid on a lung. Serious in an 81 year old man with pulmonary disease.

My conversation with CB yesterday went something like:

Me: Dad’s in the hospital. Mom will talk with him about the money when all the testing is over, and they know what is going on.

CB: Okay, so when do you think that will be? Because I need the money by the 1st.

Yeah, CB is a bit ego-centric, but as Rob reminded me – aren’t we all – in this life for ourselves kind of thing? Unless you are Mother Teresa that is. Oops, bad example. Or maybe an apt one because as self-less as we are all capable of being, what ultimately makes us happy, content or whatever, is having a life that is stable with people who care about – even love – us.

I googled the whole “fluid on the lung” thing last night then. It was not cheery.

  • infection
  • the beginnings of congestive heart failure
  • cancer

Dad’s lung doctor doesn’t think it has anything to do with his existing lung issues or the pneumonia. This leaves us with two ugly scenarios.

Mom called me after they siphoned off two litres of bloody fluid. She told me – without my bringing up the subject – that she simply could not deal with CB or his request. To which I replied,

“So just send him the check then.”

Because the way I see it, she will worry and feel bad if she doesn’t, and since money isn’t an issue for her – why not use it to buy a little peace and happiness for herself and CB?

And me. Let’s not forget about me in all this.

Later in the afternoon, DNOS calls and tells me not to bring up CB again.

“I didn’t,” I tell her. “Mom brought it up.”

“Oh.” Clearly she had wanted to be bossy and now couldn’t, “Well, Mom had one of her freak-out’s about it.”

I go on to explain my theory and plan. DNOS reluctantly gets on board and agrees to make sure that the money goes out this week and then says,

“I really don’t care about CB anymore. I would be upset if he…expired…but I just don’t care about him.”

And I get that. I have a list of people I should care about more than I do too.

My gut tells me I need to be prepared to hop on a plane and go soon. I know I will have to go without Rob. He and BabyD will remain here until Dad dies. I will have to do the hospice thing again on my own and being the rock and go-to on top of it. I don’t know if I am up to this or not, but life doesn’t need our permission for anything it decides to do. There is no point looking for a whale belly to ride out the storm.

Bad timing and life. Go figure.