Becoming Matriarch

My father once teased me by calling me the matriarch of the family since I am the oldest living female. (I had to stop here to think. Am I? I’m still in middle age though I am sliding down the banister into the early years of old age, so it seems impossible that there is no older female, but I can’t think of any except some distant relatives.)

Today, however, I feel as if I have graduated into matriarch-ness. My father finally conceded (at least for the moment, anyway) that he can no longer do his accounts, pay the bills, keep up with house repairs and everything else that needs doing to make sure everyone is comfortable, so he “passed the torch” to me. (Those are the words he used.) I told him I’d continue doing everything his way, but he said as long as the accounts were understandable to the executor of his estate, he didn’t care how I did things.

spiderSo here I am, matriarch of our dysfunctional little family — one elderly father who seldom leaves his bed, one dysfunctional brother who refuses to leave the area, one sister who has come to help and leaves whenever she is free, and me who sometimes dreams of leaving and sometimes dreads it. Besides that, the house is so big that something always needs to be repaired. I feel like a black widow spider, sitting in the middle of my poorly-spun web, but instead of me twanging the web to attract insects, the insects twang me, keeping me trapped in the center of it all.

There are others in the family, far-flung siblings that I used to keep informed when my father was ailing, but for some reason, during the past couple of weeks I haven’t felt like sending out my usual emails, maybe because no one is contacting me to see how he is doing. The truth is, I wouldn’t know what to say even if they did. He is definitely declining at an ever-rapid rate, but he is peaceful in his isolation. If anyone wanted to come, of course I as matriarch would give permission even if he were not so disposed, but for now we’re just letting the days slip away, one after the other, taking each minute as it comes.

I’ve played many different roles in my life. Some roles, like daughter and sister, have been with me from the moment I was born, but this new role of matriarch will not be long-lived. When my father is gone, probably within a few months, I will slip off the mantel, turn everything over to the executor, and head out on my own, unencumbered by any responsibility. For now, however, here I am, doing the best I can in a strange and bewildering situation.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to “Becoming Matriarch”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Well Pat, I’m glad he’s conceding responsibility to you (as you said, for the moment). I hope things get easier for you as time goes on. Remember, it’s always darkest before light breaks.

  2. eileendandashi Says:

    Getting old and dealing with it is hard, both for the one that is ailing and for the caretaker. I think God looks more kindly on those that take care of their parents.

  3. Carol Says:’s definitions of a matriarch are interesting, if somewhat discombobulating:
    1. the female head of a family or tribal line.
    2. a woman who is the founder or dominant member of a community or group.
    3. a venerable old woman.

    Sometime after my husband’s older brother died two years ago, we suddenly realized we were the oldest living members of the entire family. I had been getting “older”, but at that moment decided I was indeed “old” (don’t know about that ‘venerable’ part!). It was sobering for me. In truth, however, I was only one day older than I had been the day before. Life didn’t change much for all the realization, and I continue its journey one day at a time as I always have.

    However, I imagine suddenly being in charge of your father’s and the household’s finances is a mixed blessing, both for you and for him. You gain a clear knowledge of what it takes to keep the household running, but it’s more work for you, too. In the early years before my home business required more elaborate recordkeeping, I bought a small account book into which I disciplined myself to chronologically note every transaction remotely related to the business. I also had a 12-month accordion-style file where every invoice and receipt was dropped into the appropriate month’s slot. It sure made my year-end a whole lot simpler. (Later, my accountant appreciated the organized habit I had developed, too.) I’m sure it’s difficult for your father to relinquish his sense of responsibility for the household, even if he can no longer cope with it. It might make it easier for him to relax and trust that you have everything under control if you were able to show him a written account of the various transactions at the end of each month (or week, or whenever). He’d be reassured that the various bills had indeed been paid, certain repairs done for which cheques were written, etc., and you wouldn’t have to defend your abilities. Then again, maybe you already do something like that.

    You’ll be relieved to let an executor deal with it all later, but does he/she currently have legal Power of Attorney by any chance, or is that also yours?

    So much to think about and deal with in that ‘web’! Wishing you strength and courage as you handle it all.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      One of my brothers (not the one here bedeviling me) has POA and so controls my father’s “estate.” I just have the ability to write the household checks, and I’ll probably have to send my brother an accounting of what I do. This web is becoming increasingly tangled. I hold tight to the thought that one day I will be free.

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