Thursday, April 30, 2009

again... family is complicated

Every family has tragedy, drama, sicknesses, skeletons. As much as I'd like to say that is every family but mine, well, that would be a lie. Growing up, I was sure we didn't have those, but as I got older and old enough to understand them, well, I finally learned about them. Now, don't start drooling thinking that there are going to be any juicy stories. I am not going to air dirty laundry, that is tacky. I would however like to talk about the most recent development in my family that we are dealing with. It is a subject that I feel very strongly should not be considered a skeleton, but instead is a tragedy and a sickness.

My dad is the second of 4 kids, James, Amelia, and Mac. I have asked a lot of questions about my dad and his siblings. My dad and his brother James were both born in Joinkrama, Nigeria, Africa. My Granny was a Southern Baptist missionary and medical doctor there. When my dad was about 6 months old, he and my uncle both contracted polio and the family were shipped home for treatment. I never knew Amelia because she died at the age of 12 from complications due to spina bifida and hydrocephalus. I know Mac pretty well at one point, but not much of his childhood nor do I know him very well now.

Asking questions about these kids, has led me to the knowledge that my dad spent a lot of time at Grandmother Cox's house in Texas fishing and shooting birds. I finally found out why. Apparently, for my Granny and Grandpa Frank having to try to deal with James and Amelia, it was easier for them to send the easier child to Grandmother Cox. Amelia was very sick and so that was difficult, but from what I understand, James was just a very hard child to deal with. Very demanding and very time consuming.

Eventually James got married to Lynne mom's sister. Then a little bit later my dad married my mom. So, my dad's brother married my mom's sister. Sounds a little backwoods and hillbilly, but it's not really. That makes their kids my double cousins I guess.

When I was about 1, my Grandpa Frank died from a heart attack and my dad and Uncle James took over his business of wholesale pet supplies ie: Edwards Pet Supplies. I grew up in that environment, a big warehouse that smelled of pine, fish food, and dog food, and my dad and James in an office with two desks facing each other. We would go to work with my dad in the summers and so we spent quite a bit of time with Uncle James, Aunt Lynne, and their kids.

Now, what I am going to write next will probably be offensive to some, might sound heartless to others, I don't know, I am just writing what I perceived and how I feel.

I grew up not liking the man. I didn't like how my dad acted after being with him or after talking to him on the phone. I didn't like the unease that my mom or dad exuded after speaking to him. I didn't like how he treated me or my siblings. I didn't like how he treated his family. I didn't like how he treated the workers in the warehouse. I could tell from early on that he was a difficult man to deal with and I always felt lucky that I had my dad instead of him as a dad. He was, as an adult, overly needing to be the center of attention. He always pushed the hugging and kissing on us and I am just not a fan of that sort of thing. If you don't want to hug or kiss someone, you shouldn't have to. He always made me a little uncomfortable with his pushiness. To be fair though, I will say there were many years I didn't like my dad either. We never saw eye to eye on anything. He has more than once said I was a disappointment. In my youth and my anger I have thought that I just wanted him to die. Then I would really think about it and think about what it would be like to not have him around. Even though I didn't like him at the time, I didn't ever really want him to die. That goes the same for Uncle James. Even though I didn't like him when I was younger, I would never wish that on someone or their family. And it would have been nice getting to know him with me as an adult to make a better decision on whether I still disliked him or if it had changed, like my feelings for my father have changed. I sure like the guy now, even with his quirks. It would have been nice to say that I liked his brother too, even with his quirks.

At some point, he fell and hit his head and he seemed to get worse "in the head". Now, I don't know if this falling and hitting his head made him worse, or if what they call "post-polio syndrom" was a factor, or if he just was a little off in the head and as he got older, he just couldn't control it like he could when he was younger. Who knows. But eventually, he and Lynne separated. I don't know any details. I don't know if there was a divorce. I really don't know anything other than just talk and can't really say for certain that it's valid or not. He eventually moved into a group home and lived there.

Now, I know he could not have been easy to live with. He had to be difficult to have as a father. I don't have any idea what his relationship with his kids were. It is not my place, really, to ask. It's none of my business. I've only ever once sat with any of these cousins to talk about our fathers, and that was last spring around this time when I was in Colorado for my Grandma's surgery. But, I can imagine there are some unresolved issues that would be difficult to ever resolve.

So, to the tragedy. Keep in mind, these are not the stone cold facts. This is just what I was told this morning and what I can remember after this long day. I got the news today that he called someone at the group home he is living for physical therapy and told them he was going to kill himself. He somehow got a hold of a gun and shot himself. I don't know where, either in body or place. To me, that is a shock. But, after talking to some members of the family, I guess he had been threatening and talking about it for 40 years. So, then again is the shock of "what set him off to actually do it?".

My disconnected view of this whole thing is this. I was not close my uncle and I guess some families are closer to their uncles than I am. When my husband's uncle died of brain cancer, he was very sad and pretty devastated about it. I guess that explains the reaction my friends have had about this death. I am apparently not reacting to this the way that others expect me to react. I haven't seen they guy in years and years. I am so amazingly appreciative of the support my friends have shown me and it makes comfortable I will have a great support system if/when something happens that I really, really need them.

Again, I don't know what my cousins' outlook on their father is. After talking to a friend today and discussing her relationship with her father who has been a little disconnected and difficult himself, she made a startling comment that struck a chord of truth with me and my feelings for this situation and why I am hurting for my cousins far more than I am hurting for the loss of this family member. She said that it must be harder to deal with the loss of a parent when you aren't at peace with them. There is the guilt of whatever negative feeling you were feeling the last time you saw them or the guilt of avoiding them to avoid fighting or whatever head trips that person put you on. That really makes sense to me. I can see how being at peace with your loved one either due to a long lingering illness and you knew death was imminent or if you just had a good relationship with them, must be a little easier to deal with. I will put in here that it does not mean there will not be any guilt. That is one of the stages in the grieving process, but I don't expect that it would be as long lived or that it would be the main source of the sadness.

Suicide. I want to put my two cents in on this subject. I don't ever want this sad event for my family to be a skeleton. I don't want it to be something whispered about or for it to turn into some sordid topic of gossip. My dad's younger brother asked my mom not to tell anyone that he did this to himself. I think that either he finds it to be a source of shame or that others will. I personally don't care what others think of this. I think that coming from the small town I come from and having so many people I know who have committed suicide, it would be nice to be able to openly talk about it instead of getting together in groups and whispering and pointing fingers with eyes wide with shock. I think it would be a great service to let it be known what it does to a family when a member does this great act of selfishness to themselves. What it does to their friends. I don't want to sound like some activist on the subject, but I have felt strongly on this subject for years and years. For no reason other than it is so hurtful to those around the person committing this act. I think after my own experience with it, I have nothing but anger and contempt. I had an ex-boyfriend who had the gall to give me his suicide notes and wanted me to hand them out to each person to which each was written. I can't even imagine the nerve and quite frankly wish I hadn't done all that I had done to try to prevent it from happening, I am that angry about the whole situation. Not that he has any different right to live, just that it was a supremely selfish thing to do to me and then having to explain to his mother what he had done. I don't ever want to have to see that pain in someone's eyes ever again. It was not fair to me and it was not fair to his family.

So, instead of this being a skeleton, a taboo topic in our family, I would like to say... sickness, tragedy, a sad event. But, never in whispered tones and behind my hand like it's a secret.


Ang said...

I definitely agree that it should be talked about. I think families that pretend things are okay and ignore issues such and mental illness is a problem that could lead to a suicide. It's too bad we all do this at some point.

STACY said...

I agree! I also think any death can be like that if it's ignored and not talked about, makes people feel ashamed and uncomfortable talking about it. I feel really sad for Mac, you dad too, but your dad has your mom and all of you guys to help him through this, and I know how hard Mac is taking all of this.

Matt Bailey said...

I don't know how Mac is really feeling about this. When my mom told him, he seemed to come across that it was expected and not surprising. He wanted to be a support to my mom instead of the other way around. She was mighty surprised by that. I think in all reality for a few, there is a sense of relief. That he is in a better place. In the public eye, he may be taking the sympathy which is great and I hope he is, but to the family, well, he seems to be unsurprised and pretty unfazed. I know my dad is very angry.

Stacy, can I tell you, I feel like an awful friend. I had no idea that you lost your mom! It's tough to know that it sometimes is harder now than it was then.

And this is amanda, i just don't want to take the time to log in to my own name. =)

STACY said...

Amanda, you confused the crap out of me!! I didn't even stop long enough to register the name!

I'm sure a lot are relieved, the drama and everything is over, no more threats and manipulation (that's how I view suicide). Not to say it doesn't hurt any less to lose someone, expected or not.

I saw Mac the other day, just about ran him over in the parking lot at Wal-Mart, and he looked just like Mac, I was expecting him to look like a complete and total mess, from the way I heard he was taking it from people!

Don't feel like an awful friend at all! That's a part of my life that apparently I succeeded in keeping hidden all those years! It was always such a huge deal to someone I won't mention, even say her name in front of her or to even look as though you were thinking about her, so it was easier for me to just hide it than to have to face the wrath of that certain someone!!

You think after 19 years she'd get over it too, but she's still just as bitchy about it as she's always been!!

Enjoy your family while they are around, and let me know if Ralph and Barbara are in town!

Mandy B said...

Mac did an amazing job at the gravesite service and feeding us all at the lunch afterward. Of course, he had some memories that he shared that made him tear up but he stood up strong and did a great job. The food was pretty much a great Thanksgiving dinner with a few family favorites ie: green onions and sweet tea. I think the worst part about the whole event for me is that I hurt when I see others hurting. When I see my family grieving so hard, it makes me cry. I want to take some from them. Is that called empathy? I guess. It's my curse. I don't know how to comfort people but I pick up their energy. Today was a very hard day to watch the urn being placed into the dirt and all of us hang around and tell stories and laugh and cry. GRRR! there are a few details that I learned today that just make me more mad. I guess it's my grieving process right now. I hope it goes away and changes to something else.

Knowing you as well as I do and knowing your family, you can definitely understand my phrase "family's complicated." I know on some level everyone has a complicated member or moment. I'm sorry to hear someone was and still is awful about your stuff. I would hate to be in their head and carry that much hate and/or anger for that long.