Sister "D" called me on Friday to talk about Mom’s deteriorating condition. Eventually, she got around to saying, "I suppose you should come down…" The unspoken completion of that thought being, "…if you want to see her before she dies."
I don’t know why I was brought up short by the suggestion. I hadn’t even really thought about it. We made the trip down to Eugene three weeks ago, when Mom first became so sick; and we trekked down again the following weekend, on her birthday. We visited with her when she was…as good as it appears she’s going to get, these days. So the first thing that popped out of my mouth when D communicated what amounted to the deathbed call was, "Why?" I think dear sister was a little taken aback. And then I found I couldn’t articulate my non-intention to attend in any way that sounded sane, even to me. I hung up the phone, having made no commitment I wasn’t prepared to honor.
I hardly remember getting ready for work that day, because my brain was so focused on nailing down my feelings about…everything. Mom’s approaching death. My sisters’ total involvement in her care. My developing philosophies about life and death and the journey between the two, which my sisters find difficult to swallow. My impatience with Western medicine’s inability to allow nature to take its course. My commitment to a business that has depleted my emotional and physical reserves to the point where I am consistently running on fumes. Taking all these factors into account, I balanced rushing down to my mother’s bedside against…not. And the scales tipped heavily to "not." What, after all, would be the real reason for going?
For Mom? Most of the time, she is incoherent. She’s regressed to the point where she is more often interacting with her memories than with what is actually happening around her. When she does come out of the fog, and she recognizes my sisters, all she can say, is "Get my shoes. I want to go home. Take me home." At one point, sister D told me she wasn’t sure whether her presence with Mom was more upsetting than comforting. So, why would I want to add to that potential upset? And even if Mom does come to herself enough to realize where she is and that we were all gathered around her, she wouldn’t be the least bit interested in saying goodbye. Because she still has no intention of going.
For me, then? Will I hate myself for the rest of my life if I don’t run down there, cling to my mother’s hand and weep? Well, no. I’ve come to terms with her impending death. I’m sure it’s been easier for me, because I haven’t been involved in her daily care for the past eight years, as my sisters have. I’ve done the deathbed thing. I held my Dad’s hand as he passed from this life. I didn’t plan to, didn’t even think I could. But since I had been chiefly in charge of his care, I felt that I had started the journey with him, and I was by god going to finish it. And I knew that was what he wanted. So I know how my sisters feel about sticking in there with Mom. And I don't feel bad about letting them do it, without any interference from me. Considering my non-existent emotional and physical reserves, I’m convinced the right choice for me is to stay quietly on the sidelines.
Well, then. That leaves one last argument in favor of making the trip. "Support," I am told. "You go down to support your family." Okay…no. In my family, that’s the one thing you definitely DO NOT do. We have no clue how to support, uplift, or even be nice to each other faced with life and death upheaval. We proved that beyond any doubt when my dad was dying.
I will never forget the things we did to each other during and in the months following Dad’s illness. Gloves came off, claws were unsheathed, fangs were bared, and we tore into each other wildly and relentlessly. The collateral damage of that awful time was what drove me away from the "heart" of my family…one hundred-plus miles away. I needed to re-establish my own life far enough away from my sisters that we couldn’t hurt each other any more. It was a wise decision. It brought a peace among us that never would have been accomplished if I had not given up and walked away.
I know with absolute certainty that if I rushed down to Eugene today, I’d have to be on guard every minute. I’d have to watch every word I said, every move I made, lest it be interpreted as a threat or some kind of criticism of the way my sisters have handled Mom’s issues. Any attack, however unintentional, will be met with the most vicious and poisonous counter-attack. At my best, I’m hopelessly impolitic; in my current depleted condition, I am certain to be the match applied to the powder keg. And I cannot go through that again.
The best service I can do for my sisters—for all of us—is to stay away. And honestly, I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t even feel the need to explain my decision to anyone; not that they could or would understand anyway. Their disapproval of my absence will not amount to one tenth of the potential fallout of my presence. I simply know what I need to do, for many reasons that I have judged are best for me and for everyone involved.