Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The "In Thing" That Cost Me Everything

The following is a post on what has become a series.  If you have been through an illness or death of a parent/loved one, consider this what the young'uns call a 'trigger warning' as it deals with the raw emotions of an unexpected death which may include cursing, dark humor and not holding back my feelings about my experience.  If that's offensive, go elsewhere as this post isn't likely going to benefit you.  If you are new here and want to see the posts leading up to this one, you can start with posts on July 7th and go forward.


This post is about how "cut off culture" cost me everything.   I know I don't have to post this for my regulars but some rogue schmuck is going to stumble onto this post and try to poke the bear because they don't read it all before commenting.  There are families that are truly toxic in ways no one should tolerate.  I'm talking sexual (borderline and full on), physical and hardcore verbal abuse.  This post isn't about those people.  This post is about grief and what putting distance instead of just having hard conversations can cost you when it's too late.  I respect the choices of those who feel they are happier with their decisions to distance or cut off certain family members,  I'm asking for the same with my experience. If I feel attacked by someone by expressing what I am going through, your comment will go bye-bye.


Most of you know, I'm a child of divorce.  Dad left when I was 9, cut off contact with me for 3 months and then when settled into his new life expected me to fall in line and give his new wife what she wanted which was a perfect family of four.  When I spent most of those weekends with him sobbing in bed or resentful of the fact I was being court ordered into time with a man who never even acknowledged the divorce or what it was very obviously doing to me, it did more damage than what had already been done when they were married.  I never felt good enough for him.  I always figured he wanted a boy and then when he got one with his 2nd wife, he screwed that up too so it clearly wasn't just me.  I'm not a Pink Floyd fan at all but it truly was the beginning of living my life 'another brick in the wall' style.  His lack of parenting, forcing Mom and I into essentially a life of fight or flight and his own parental issues that became glaring the older I got screwed me up royally.  It set up coping mechanisms in me that only amplified as I got older.  From that point on, Mom was my best friend and going through her stuff only cements that.  TONS of cards, notes, letters from age 5 on about how she was my very best friend.  It's the kind of thing every mother would want to get from their kid and she kept every single one of them.  My favorite great aunt told me very matter of fact at age 10 "I don't know how your mom does it, you be a good girl for her, okay?  She's got a lot on her plate."  I took that like it was orders from the president.  I never wanted to give her more trouble than she was already going through to make sure we survived.  When the Mr came along, she welcomed him with open arms and wallet even though she really didn't have the money to be feeding another kid which I didn't even think about until the Mr brought it up.  I wish I'd thought of it earlier because I would've made sure we paid her back when we were married.  Not that we didn't buy her things outside of typical gift giving times of year but it kind of put another light on just how generous she was.

So I reminded you of all of that to get to my topic.  How many times, particularly over the past 5-10 years have we seen phrases like these:

"Some people are so delusional.  They think it's disrespectful when you don't sit back and allow them to disrespect you."

"Stay away from people who make you feel like you're hard to love."

"When you ask the universe to go to the next level, don't be surprised when every person preventing progress is removed from your life."

"You don't have to explain why you want what you want, do what you do, love what you love or need what you need.  You're allowed to live a life some people don't understand."

Do I agree with these?  Yes.  

Here's the problem.  

When you grow up in a 'suck it up' family in the 70's on his side, watch your family fracture through your grandparents divorce at 5, being thrust into adulthood before you hit double digits (which is how it felt when having to watch Mom sweat it each month and learning after she passed just how close we came to not making it that first year), being abandoned by your father and his whole side of the family so essentially losing 10 people and not only one and so many other things, you develop filters.  These filters are either coping/defense mechanisms or when new situations you are presented with throughout your life bring up old, undealt with feelings or fears.  Therefore you may have a hard time distinguishing what is actual disrespect or what feels like disrespect which has been processed through your filters.  This can be something as simple as someone disagreeing with you which we all know isn't actual disrespect though you wouldn't know that looking at today's climate.  I digress.  Sometimes we project the lack of love for ourselves onto other people.  I have always considered myself a burden though not ONE PERSON has ever said that to my face.  I would think "if they didn't have me as teenagers, Mom wouldn't have to struggle right now" or other similar thoughts.  When anything hard comes up in life...I am always apologizing for it whether I had anything to do with it or not.  When you think others are preventing your progress, sayings like the above make it very easy to justify distancing yourself from people you refuse to reveal your true self to in order to prevent yourself from being hurt or rejected.  And no, you don't owe people an explanation of why you are the way you are or do the things you do but let me tell you something, you can't expect people to ever fully love all of you if you don't explain why some things that are minor to everyone else go deeper for you.  Like if a couple are having communication issues that are severely affecting their happiness and threatening their marriage and they go to therapy or read books to better understand each other, they are praised.  Why is this not encouraged in the other relationships with people that are closest to us?  It sucks to be vulnerable because you're handing yourself to someone on a silver platter and the way someone reacts to what you say can cut you to the bone even if what they said was delivered with the force of a paper cut.

But if you find yourself scrolling IG or Facebook or wherever you hang out online and you find something that hits the nail on the head for you when you're feeling rejected or disrespected and YOU have filled in the blanks as to what that person's intent was without asking or giving them the same courtesy of clarification that you want from them, talk about adding gasoline to some smoldering embers.  Then the algorithm shows you more and more just reinforcing the pain you already feel whether real or perceived.  Before you know it, you are putting distance with people when you haven't even had an actual difficult conversation with them because what you think they're saying/thinking has become the narrative.  The families many of us grew up with are gone.  The ones that gathered in droves with cousins overflowing every crevice laughing and playing together.  The ones with adults all gathered playing cards, board games or listening to music, laughing together.  Technology has made it so kids and adults alike can't even sit at a table together without checking their phones giving off the vibe they'd rather be doing anything but spending time together unless there are presents to be opened.  I'd give anything for those gatherings pre-technology but the algorithm finds you one click and one like at a time.  "Oh, they're feeling like no one understands them...send  more of that stuff so they knows other people feel the same!  Make sure to put the ones saying all they have to do is ignore the problem because others don't and never will understand them under the guise of personal peace!"  Yes, it's our choice whether or not to believe those things but when it is seemingly everywhere, you feel like everyone feels that way.  Clearly we have more information now than when we were kids about mental health and attitudes but it's shifting to a place where the goal is to avoid conflict even if you have to weed the friends and family garden for any (potentially perceived) infraction.

**I feel this is a part that is going to set some people off so I need you again to stop and take a breath and listen to what I said.  If someone has not said something to your face and you are filling in the blanks of what you think they meant!  Therefore you are possibly creating a toxic relationship that may not truly even exist or at minimum only needs a gentle nudge back in the right direction.  If someone literally abuses you sexually, physically then yes, get the f*ck questions.  Someone constantly making fun of you or comparing you to someone else, you stick up for yourself and they continue to go at it or double down, then yes, set the boundary and decide how you want to handle that even if that means cutting them out.  Those examples are not what I'm talking about.**

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.  Mom and I were big time criers especially in the years after the divorce.  We felt safe being emotional with each other and I felt that way most of my life.  After all of the caregiver burnout with grandma over 7 years but 6 months before she passed, Mom was over for a visit and the subject turned to grandma.  I was very sensitive not only about grandma's condition but the horrible way I felt her husband was handling the situation.  I also felt like our opinions were no longer being considered when I asked about why what they said would happen for her care was no longer happening to save her husband money he very much had for grandma's care.  It had been a great visit and as I started talking about Grandma, I began crying.  It may not have even been something particularly cry worthy but I think just talking to someone else other than the poor Mr who had to basically endure all of my feelings in truly endless circles for years, got me weepy.  

She laughed a little and looked at the Mr and said "someone's emotional."

Me:  Initiate emotional shutdown sequence. Brain deems you unsafe on this topic...slap up another brick. 


Was it the best response she could've given?  No but I also know that when you're uncomfortable,  sometimes you just blurt out the first thing to shut down discomfort when it's been a happy visit overall.  Maybe she wasn't in a place she wanted to get emotional about her mother because she felt it's all she ever did and wanted a break from it.  Maybe because of my basically going quiet any time the subject was brought up, she wondered why I always have such a visceral response when her husband is brought up?  Maybe...maybe...maybe.  Instead, I viewed her saying I was "emotional" when I listened to her cry during hard times in our life as hypocritical and why wasn't I allowed to feel the same?  Why couldn't she comfort me instead of feeling like she was criticizing me with two words?  It stirred up feelings of rejection which take me right back to Dad the day he made her do the dirty work and tell me they were getting divorced while he hid in the bathroom, too chicken shit to take responsibility for the rubble he was leaving behind.   We both reacted poorly based on what filters we had in place because of our own experiences.

My point is NEITHER of us said the hard thing which may have been "what upsets you when we talk about her care because I feel like you're judging the way we're taking care of her?" (no idea if she felt that way or not but it was assumed and you know what they say about that) or if I'd said "why is me crying uncomfortable for you now?  We never had a problem with it as a kid or teen, what changed?"  Instead we both shut down and I viewed one bad moment- literally 30 seconds- as the whole visit being ruined.  As they say, 99 people can compliment you but it's the one that says you look like a pile of dog crap that sticks with you.  Then it becomes a matter of me looking for it, being ready for the fight or ready to disconnect if she made a snappy comment that isn't even really that snappy but my filters perceive it as worse than it was.  Make no mistake, like everyone, she could get snippy when frustrated but she gets it honestly which means I get it honestly but then pile it on with a fly off the handle at a moments notice from my dad's side while waiting for life to yank the rug out from me and that is how I've lived my life.  Through my filters based on my experiences.

But it's okay, right?  Someone makes you uncomfortable then you distance yourself from them or cut them off!  That's what everyone says now.  They talked about the 80's being the "me" generation?!  Pshht... they've got nothing on the 2020's!  I saw a different meme that really brought it to my attention too because it said "this generation would rather cut everyone off in their life than have a difficult conversation for 5 minutes and fix it and y'all wonder why you're lonely."  That was on a Gen Z page!  I know we're all responsible for our actions.  I know there are also plenty of things that say stop playing the victim and blaming everyone else for your life or whatever.  Well, guess what, sometimes circumstances of life alter your way of living so hard that it feels impossible to change or improve it no matter how hard you try.  That tape is on hard loop over and over and it filters the way you see, move through and perceive the world.  So you isolate.  When you live always feeling like the rug is going to be pulled out from under you because history has proven it usually happens, then you are constantly looking for something to go wrong.

Mom's sib has always been her best friend since childhood and that bond only got stronger as they got older.  Part of the reason I wasn't as open with her as I used to be was because of their closeness.   I knew pretty much what I told her, she may tell her sib and that would mean her sib told their spouse.   Sorry but I don't need everyone knowing my business so I was always very guarded on what I told her if I wasn't something I wanted two other people to potentially know as well.  When she was 50, she met a great group of ladies who became like sisters to her and her social calendar was always full.  I won't lie, I envied how close they all were because I felt like we used to be that close and now it felt like she wanted to spend her time with everyone but me.  (I know that isn't true.  Try to tell my brain that.)  A few of the times I asked if she wanted to get together for dinner and if she had something planned already and didn't give me a concrete answer on when she could, I perceived it as rejection.  When I say her calendar was full, I mean FULL.  I really don't know how she held down a full time job and still did so much but it's not like her daughter was knocking down her door to spend time with her so why wouldn't she spend time with people who literally clamored to be around her?  I remember a particularly bad Thanksgiving where everyone was utterly and completely miserable.  Grandma was laid out in the living room, people were already in moods, some drunk, others looking around like "how is this our holiday now?" and we choked through it.  (It was the year I decided we were going to start going away to VT every other year because I couldn't take it anymore.)  The next day on social media, there was mom, her sib and best friends completely losing it laughing, yucking it up and dressing up in silly shirts.  I was mad.  Where were those people the day before?  When they were all snapping at each other, no one cracking a smile like their face would break and everyone in every age group basically miserable to be there?  Yes, she was entitled to let loose, laugh and smile but wasn't the point of Thanksgiving to make memories and be thankful?  That year it felt like no one was thankful for anything and I really resented that we didn't even get a 2 minute peek at those happy people.  It felt like "well, you're not here for the weekly caregiving stuff so we're going to shove it all in your face" by all of grandma's kids.  (Again...filters!)  


Then here I am scrolling my empath sites where the key is supposed to be empathy but if you look a little harder, nowhere do they actually encourage you to have the hard conversations.  The ones that could be anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour that could literally undo years of crap thinking and burn those filters.  But you know, you've found your 'tribe' and people who understand and encourage you to keep your distance, set boundaries and such without ever really telling people why those boundaries need set in the first place and then wonder why you feel like people don't understand you.  Yes, there ARE people who literally give zero fucks about understanding you or caring about why things make you feel certain ways... that's not who I mean.  There are also times when you go into a dangerous self preservation mode that basically is code for isolation and since social media is telling us out of one side of its mouth isolating from people is okay while out of the other side of its mouth it's reporting about an epidemic of loneliness how the HELL do we ever do what is truly right for us long term??

Well, I'm here to tell you to have the hard conversation and screw what is floating through your feed.  What's in your heart?  Is it broken?  Why?  What would help fix it?  Would it be having that closer relationship with someone and did you play a part in making it weird?  Own it.  Do you know how many times I wanted to have that hard conversation and then Covid happened and then it was like "well, I don't see her very much so I don't want to ruin the time we do see each other."  Excuses.  Because then you know the next call I end up getting a few years into it?  "Your mom has stage 4 cancer" and 30 days later she's gone.  There is no fixing it then.  Did she know I was there for her?  Yes.  I still see her smile when we'd walk into the room.  The random times she would grab me and hug me holding on for dear life.  The time she told the Mr and I halfway through her ordeal to sit at the end of her bed so she could see us both before she took a nap so we were the last things she saw if she didn't wake up.  To see the look come over her face remembering why she was there and saying "who would've ever thought I'd be going through this?" and having no way to comfort her and tell her I could help make it better.  Watching her ability to communicate with us slip away knowing she had so much left to say that her body wouldn't allow her as it was shutting down.  To know she told her sib 'how good it was to see my kids.'  To feel like shit knowing that I saw her more in the final month of her life than I saw her in the previous three years.  Inundating her with memories the day before she passed as people came in and out to say their goodbyes to let her know how much they all meant to me, what SHE meant to me with faint little hand squeezes on particularly funny ones.  To sit with her playing her favorite artists and singing to her and that she was trying to sing back even though she was basically in a coma from the meds the last time we saw her alive.    

You want to know the worst part?  The snappy part of her...the one we all blamed on unregulated hormones after her hysterectomy that she never really evened out from?  The part of her personality that made me brace up in case she said something that hurt my wittle feelings between her tone and my filtering of that tone that lasted 5 seconds?  She had a brain tumor.  I'm talking a lifelong brain tumor that I found out after she died that she was scanned for and her prolactin level was at 201 in 1981 and it should've been 15.  When it was found in July, her levels were 1150+!!!!  What is one of the side effects of this tumor and where it was?  Irritability.  "Oh you have no way of knowing that's what did it."  Wanna bet?  2 days after she began medication to treat the condition, her personality (which was quite snappy the first day or two rightly so given what she was going through) completely evened out.  It was like having my old mom back... and I could barely breathe.  This thing I had put up walls with her about was not even her fault and I'd wasted every day for over a decade feeling a certain way for something she couldn't even help! 

Now there is a Mt. Everest of regret, shame and guilt I now get to climb in addition to 'regular' grief.  I get to try to find a way to forgive myself which I doubt will happen and beat myself up for something I never could've known.  I'd like to think even if I'd gotten over myself enough to say something and try not to let our defenses go up that it would've made a difference.  That if she saw I wanted to get back to that point of being as close to her as she was with her friends and sib, I know 1000% she would've been on board with that.  That she would've been just as open to it because I know she filled in the blanks about us as much as we did about her and that stopped us from being able to truly go deep at times.  That cuts me like a knife now.  I know when I told her and the rest of the family to please not save up computer issues to talk to the Mr about for hours on a holiday that she seemed to interpret that as we didn't want to help her.  Not what we said.  What accountant wants to crunch numbers on Easter?  What attorney wants to give free advice on Thanksgiving?  The holidays are for rest and family, that's all.  So then I would see posts about an in-law or nephew coming to do this or that around the house and we were never asked.  We would feel like shit about it and then get our undies in a twist about why when we set what we considered a reasonable request, it appeared to be blown out of proportion and you guessed it, another brick.  I guess we both sucked at not wanting to step on each others toes because we thought we knew how the other would react.  Now she's gone and there's no way to fix it, talk about it, hug it out and generally have better communication.  I don't want you to think we had a bad relationship, we didn't.  We laughed a lot, hugged a lot, made stupid faces, got in hilarious situations that had us doubled over laughing, talked about all kinds of things, she loved looking through pictures of our travels, said we always knew how to have fun or find some off the beaten path thing to try.  But it still felt like it was not as good as it could've been at times.  Matter of fact, when I lamented over these things with my closest girlfriends, they all said they'd been through the same with their mom's and it's that mother/daughter dynamic that comes into play even in the best relationships.  But I didn't know how to approach it without wondering if she'd feel attacked, it would make things worse or that I would be rocking the boat.  

ROCK. THE. FUCKING. BOAT.  You must go in with an open mind and heart and tell them you understand if they need to process things once the ball is rolling and come back to it.  However you need to approach it so that it's done with love, care for everyone's feelings and not in a confrontational way will hopefully get the best results.  Otherwise, you may find yourself sitting in the rubble of your old life as your parent, child or spouse is gone wondering why you weren't brave enough to say the uncomfortable thing and stop believing a bunch of morons who just want likes.  I hope no one else ever has to go through the anguish I feel of wishing I'd done things differently.  No one is guaranteed old age and you think you have time to improve things.  

You don't.

Let me repeat that...YOU. DON'T.  

With anyone.


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  1. Well said, I appreciate your transparency as you work through the grief journey.
    I have had a similar conversation with my son as he had cut me out of his life. Xo

    1. I hope things are going well for you guys. I think the biggest thing I learned, more so with my dad, was intentions are good but it's actions that let you know how much you mean. A few different times he told me he was going to be a better dad, keep in touch and I would send emails and get no response even though he was the one who made the resolution. It takes work but it's worth it if both parties are willing.

  2. I know this is tough to share but I'm glad you are. If we really care then it's worth talking and trying to understand why some walls get built up over time - sometimes over the simple things that seem huge in the moment.

    1. So gut wrenching now and wishing I'd rocked the boat instead just accepted that we were both 'busy.' I know we were never truly too busy for each other. Again, always thinking there's time to make things better until one day they're just gone.

  3. This, you are so right about rocking the boat, I need to do this with one of my son's. I have many walls and layers built up around my heart due to so many family members and people I thought were friends. sending a great big {HUG] to you!

    1. I think sharing about why you have those walls could be SO helpful to him. He may be internalizing things you say/do and vice versa that are a completely incorrect narrative. I don't want anyone else wishing they'd not been too afraid to break down their walls and get closer to those they love before it's too late. You've got this!

  4. Very well said, my friend. The "what ifs and if onlys" can destroy a person emotionally with regrets. Hard conversations cut through the b.s., even when the outcomes aren't what we want. Sometimes they are even better, and sometimes they're not. But having them is worth the risk. Your mom would be very proud reading this. I'm proud of your to. xoxoxoxo

    1. It sucks so bad knowing my new years resolution for 2020 was to entertain more with her and her sib and then the poop show started. This was going to be the Christmas we were going to make plans to get together with her on or around Cmas Eve. I wish I'd been brave. I know what we had was good but it's knowing it could've been better and that my own head crap got in the way of that that eats me alive now. Thanks mama. Love you!


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