Family is a 4-letter word

If you’ve spent some time here, read along with the story so far you may have noticed I don’t seem to spend much time with Family.

“Why is that?” You wonder, “With so much loss you’d think the family would come together and support each other. Bloods thicker than water after all…”

Yeah, except when it isn’t.

Except when you spend the anniversaries of your parents deaths mostly alone, keeping busy with as many mundane things as you can find.

When you get a phone call from your mother’s brother on the anniversary of your dads death, a man who only met him a few times over 30 years ago, and he is the Only Person to ask “How’re you doing?”

When you remember the last moments of your dads life, holding his hand surrounded by strangers. Those two other people that share his DNA and a vague resemblance to you, those same two you haven’t seen since that fateful afternoon last August.

Family, the way it’s portrayed by the media as this steadfast harbor in a storm, is a lie.

Family is no more than those people who share a vague genetics connection to me. Who’s concern only extends as far as how I might be of use in their times of need.

Family is a curse. A promised lie I can’t help but fall for each and every time it’s spoken. Like some pathetic dog returning to its master despite their indifference and neglect, when even the dog knows it’d do much better if it just stayed out alone.

It hurts to know it’ll never be. I’ll never have the love and support I see taken for granted by so many.

Que sera sera,

Shifting Grief & Planning Picnics

Fuck me it’s July. 

I cried when I realized what came next on the kitchen calendar. I don’t mean I shed a quiet tear in memoriam, what I mean is I crumpled on the kitchen floor sobbing so hard I lost breath, all because I didn’t want what came next.

July is the start of the death season, the time one year ago when I lost both my parents in quick succession.

On July 23rd, 2020 I received a phone call. It was my aunt, who rarely ever calls me.I knew it wouldn’t be good news or a casual chat. I knew someone was hurt, bad.

“Mum’s gone, Jacquelyn.”

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

“Momma’s dead, she killed herself”

Cue me trying to logic my way out of this, me rationalizing that she might not be dead. That her friend, who found her lifeless body lying in her bed, could be mistaken. That we had to wait for the paramedics, for the professionals. That this wouldn’t have been the first false alarm….

Except it wasn’t false. 

She was dead. She had overdosed on prescriptions and slit her wrists. I remember going to pack up her apartment and sitting on her bedroom floor, staring at her bed. When my cousin tried to tear me away I wouldn’t leave, her brother understood something I couldn’t have explained. He walked her out of the room and stood stoically behind me as I stared at her blood soaked pillow cases.

“You want a minute?” He asked . I don’t recall if I just nodded, or if I managed words, but I do remember sitting alone on her floor. I think I was trying to make myself feel something, anything. Trying to soak up the reality of this impossible situation.

My mom killed herself and I needed to see that proof. 

I needed evidence, and in the months that followed I was obsessed with getting the truth. I would call the detective who left me his card, asking again and again for whatever evidence she’d left behind. Her friend mentioned a note, did they have it? Could i see it? What about her cell phone, was there anything relevant on there?

Eventually I got the cell phone, the first and only smartphone she’d ever owned. On it were worried voicemails from a woman I don’t know, asking if she’s ok. The last one was from October…after that they stopped. Her mailbox was full.

I never saw the note.

Along with the search for answers, for concrete evidence, there was anger. I couldn’t (and still struggle) to understand how she could give up her life while my father was fighting so hard to stay…

How could she leave me? Why did she give up? We hadn’t spoken in almost a year, but I’d sent her a letter. I wanted to try to have a functional relationship, maybe we could be penpals at first? I found the letter in her mailbox. She decided for me, for us, that we could never make it right.

Boy howdy did that piss me right off. 

By taking the most drastic of measures she ended any hope of reconciling, of developing a stronger and healthier relationship with me. She made a choice for both of us, and I hated her for it. 

I’m sure I will again, but not right now. 

For the past two weeks or so this experience, the whole ‘grieving’ thing, has shifted for me. The dread of the first anniversary of her death has all but extinguised my anger, instead bringing all the guilt and sorrow to the surface.

This wasn’t her first tango with death, she’d had many attempts over the years stretching as far back as I can remember. 

The only difference this time is I wasn’t there. 

I wasn’t there to see the signs. To encourage her to get help. To force her in the car and drive her to the hospital myself, to childlock the doors when she tried to jump out on the freeway. 

Logically I know that if a person is determined enough there is no stopping them, but I still feel guilty. I feel abandoned, and alone in a way I can’t possibly describe. While I believe that grief is isolating for everyone, since we all share a unique bond with the deceased, I feel especially fucked. Her family, besides one brother, has all but disappeared over the past year. Besides I don’t really know any of her friends, and I’ve only myself to blame for that.

I’ve arranged to have a picnic next week in her name, I reserved a bunch of tables and invited people on Facebook. I called the one friend of hers I do know, she said she’d take off the day and come by. That she’d let others know.

I’m doing this in the hopes that other people can share their good memories of my Mom, because mine are all tainted. I’d like to have something positive to hold onto, and I need help finding it.

I had a Disney princess moment when I went to check-out the place I reserved. This dude was ADAMANT that I pay attention to him, he even sniffed my hand.

Briars and Seedsprouts

The sharp edges of grief

I had to think long and hard about this, I spent most of my morning befuddled and confused since so much of grief to me has felt like a shadow. A dark covering over all the moments that are good. 

There is a sharpness though, and I know it exists in the pain but today I want to talk about sharp edges as self-preservation. The moments when someone’s comments about how I deal with the loss of My Parents, and by extension the only close living relatives I’ve ever had, cut me deeply and I go into an awful and defensive place. 

When my mothers body was found on July 23rd of 2020 we were not on speaking terms. I had gone no-contact with her in August of 2019 after she threatened my life, on multiple occasions, because I had called crisis on her for a wellness check. She’d shacked up with some guy she met in a halfway house and was acting erratically. She wasn’t sleeping, and her closest friends said they didn’t feel safe having her in their homes. 

Naturally I was concerned, and being her daughter I knew she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say so I did what I thought was right. I called in the professionals. 

They did nothing. She went  into ‘therapy’ eventually, and claimed she was working the program and getting help, but over the next year I could see the mania behind her eyes and kept my distance. I told her we could ‘open the lines of communication’ soon, but with my father withering away from the cancer I as a bit…preoccupied.

Today I made a comment on a family’s post, something about how we shouldn’t worry about what’s expected, the marriage and family and kids and all that. I made a reply:

This is all quite lovely. And it’s how I’ve spent most of my adult life.

I never worried about being married, having kids, buying a house etc etc.

Yet here I am, 33 years old with no job and no family.

What’s my point? Words are lovely, but it’s the actions we take in each moment that truly matter.

Now I didn’t mean anything mean or callous by this, just that taking those initiatives and really choosing how we use our moments is what matters.

And that’s when my Aunt decided to text me 

“I”m so sorry you lost your job!! But you don’t have a family?!?!? THat’s news to me.” I tried to explain that wasn’t meant as a job towards her, but she wouldn’t accept it. Then she brought out her favorite saying, “The door swings both ways” (insinuating I could’ve reached out to her)

And well… that’s when I got sharp. The anger that grief can bring is something I have to fight back, frequently, lest I alienate every last person on earth. 

“Yea. 

It surely doesn’t swing out this way very often though. 

I’m sorry, but where were you when I watched my father die? Where was the input from me when you held a memorial for my mother the day before I went back to work?

That comment I made, on your daughter’s facebook post, was meant more in the vein that I don’t have the immediate blood family I can turn to. You’ve taken it in an entirely different direction, and I can go there if that’s what you want. 

So please, go ahead and disown me just like your sister did. It’s old hat at this point.”

That is the sharpness. That is a bitter tongue speaking acrid words from a place so dark I hate to know it’s there. 

Sprouts of Sanity

So when exchanges like the previous post occur I’m left in this horrible lurch, this place where I can’t quite tell if the monster is me or if I’m just being buffeted by the storms and the anger around me. 

After that exchange I called an uncle, my father’s brother, to talk and catch up a bit. 

“Well, if I’m being honest I kinda stepped in it this time” I told him, referring to the exchange with my mothers’ sister. 

“Well, family is hard” he said in no uncertain terms. “It’s unfortunate the people were born into are usually the most difficult to get along with.” We talked some more, he’s heading to colorado for a job and we talked about road trips and travels. 

I then talked with boyfriends mother, who has been more family to me than my blood kin for a long while and most especially since all of this happened. 

“Well, she could’ve just said ‘we love you and we’re here for you’”.

That right there stopped me cold in my tracks. No more of the sharp, burning anger but a softening. A realization that her words were said intentionally to get a rise out of me. To make me angry and cause some form of chaos. Had she taken a moment maybe she wouldn’t have brought out that jagged bit of me. 

That isn’t to say I couldn’t have bit my tongue, tried to take a more civil route in all this myself, but it does give me pause. 

I may have those briars and bristle against others, against critiques and criticisms, but I know they exist. It is in that knowing, in that self-knowledge that I take refuge that I can rise above it. That I need not add kindle to the fire when I feel it beginning to grow inside. 

So while I may find myself full of jagged bits and sticking briars, I can also let time and space soothe those wounds. I can nurture the briar until the seed sprouts and something new and green comes through. 

I am but a seed, hard shelled and covered with prickers, but filled with the potential of a future I can scarcely imagine.