Wishing I Weren’t Sensitive

I wish I knew how to be insensitive, knew how to put matters out of my head and go on with my life as if nothing happened, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. Even after enduring months of being relentlessly hounded by my dysfunctional brother, even after I took him back to Colorado, I worry about him, worry about his well-being, wonder who he is aggravating, wonder what trouble his mouth is getting him into. There’s nothing I can do though, so worrying is foolish. I can’t control his behavior for him — no one can control another person’s behavior. I remember as a child wondering why he argued with my father since he knew it always got him a beating. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep his mouth shut as I did. It wasn’t until my mother was dying that I ever stood up to my father or broke one of his unwritten rules. (I did for her what she could never do for me — stood up to him — which seemed to connect some sort of karmic circle and brought me peace when she died.)

My family was a pool of unwritten rules. Somehow I could understand those rules while other of my siblings couldn’t. Even now, when we are all getting old, those rules still dominate. I guess those rules are why I was “allowed” to stay here to look after my father. I knew never to disturb him when he was praying or reading or doing anything, actually. I knew not to open the windows when the air conditioning was on. I knew not to eat his food, read his newspaper before he did, disturb his paperwork. Most of my siblings knew I was here to shield my father from the world (though we didn’t use those words), but my dysfunctional brother couldn’t understand. I didn’t even know there were all these unwritten rules until he started screaming about my changing “the rules.”

[Oddly, my sister who is here helping has broken many of the same “rules” that got my brother kicked out of the house, which is one of the things that sent him into emotional overdrive. He said it was unfair, and he was right.]

I came here to look after my father partly because I had nowhere else to go after the death of my life mate/soul mate (and when my father is gone, I will again have nowhere to go). But mostly I came to see if I could unwind my ties to the past so that after my father is gone, I wouldn’t still be whining over my unhappy childhood. It’s working, I suppose. I just never expected to be buffeted by such emotional storms, never expected my brother to come and shake things up even more, never expected a lot of what has happened, such as finding a nearby dance studio and taking dance classes.

I hoped that by doing for my father what he could never do for me (I pay attention to his needs though he had always been unable to pay attention to my mine) that a karmic circle would be closed when he was gone and I could finish out my life strong and wise and bold and ready for whatever happens.

But all I seem to do is cry, which is so not my idea of a strong woman, or a wise one, or a bold and independent one.

I thought my brother’s coming here fifteen months ago was a portent of my father’s passing, but although at the time father seemed near to death, my brother’s presence, however unwelcome, stimulated him and brought him to life. (Which is one reason I endured his presence all these months — there was something powerful going on beneath the surface I could feel but couldn’t understand.)

My father seems to be recovering from his most recent hospital stay. With my future on hold once again, there is a chance I can still accomplish whatever it is I need to accomplish by being here. I just wish I knew what it was. Perhaps it’s one of those unwritten rules even I am not sensitive enough to read.


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.

13 Responses to “Wishing I Weren’t Sensitive”

  1. Pat S. Says:

    I heard a great saying that goes “People cry not because they are weak, but because they’ve been strong too long.” Tears are the body’s way of flushing things out, including all the toxins that come from too much stress. No person should have to live with such “rules.” They are abusive and fail to recognize YOUR needs and YOUR humanity. A father’s job is to protect his children, and to encourage them to discover the world, not restrict them with selfish rules (HIS food? Really?? His children should come first.) It’s time to break the rules. ALL of them. You’re getting there. I know it’s hard, but you’re getting stronger every day. You’re breaking the chains that have bound you all these years. I hope you get back to your dance class soon and in losing yourself, find yourself.

    • Kathy Says:

      I agree, Pat S.! In my case, it was my mother who dominated with her rules and I was the one who spoke back to her. My make-up wouldn’t allow any other way. My step dad and their kids would sit quietly. I moved out of the house and on to San Francisco with short annual visits. That worked for over 20 years. And then I made the mistake of moving back to Oregon 3 times thinking that if I faced the past, I would be free of the past. I was wrong. This last time I was bedridden for the entire 4 months and was only healed once I crossed the California state line. It’s a big complicated subject and more than a comment can address but boundaries are extremely important and not playing by their dysfunctional rules. That is not healthy. God has boundaries and so should we. Eventually, you have to choose your life over their life. Life events trigger the past and this all came back to me like a ton of bricks this week with my step dad passing but I’m bouncing back and each time I’m stronger and a little bit closer to being free. You’re on your way. Just the fact that you can post such eloquence about this subject tells me that.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You are so very wise, Pat. Thank you for (virtually) holding my hand through all these traumatic years. It’s funny that for the first time my father is realizing what he lost by spending so little time with us. As a little girl, I always knew my parents were doing the best they could. It was only when I hit my forties that it dawned on me they should have been giving me the benefit of the doubt, not me them. I’m back to accepting they did the best they could, which is good since it’s all coming to an end in the next few months or a year.

      As for dancing, I’m hoping to go back to class on Tuesday, but I got a terrible sinus infections (I do not travel well, which makes my idea of an epic journey a bit silly) so I don’t know if I’ll make it. Keeping my fingers crossed. Dancing has been my saving grace.

  2. ShirleyAnnHoward Says:

    Well… it just seems to get deeper and deeper. Please, Pat, endless tears signal the need for seeing a mental health professional. A caring, competent counselor can help you way more than all these posts. Or else call Dr. Joy Browne 12-3 Eastern Time. 1-855-99-DRJOY. She’s really helpful.

  3. Sue Says:

    Grieving is exactly hat is happening. Grieving on a lot of different levels. It will take some time. You need to cry and not apologize for it, or feel weak because you need to do it. Many, many, many hurts and harms are wrapped up in all of this, and you have borne it all. Now, take the time you need to weep and heal. I am holding you in the light…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s funny that I can feel all sorts of things happening beneath the surface, but can’t really make sense of them. Thank you for the light you are shining on my darkness.

  4. Wanda Says:

    My family had those rules too. All unspoken but all obeyed. Don’t talk about what happens at home. Don’t make Daddy mad. Pretend to be asleep when Daddy is mad at Mommy. Or when step-dad is drunk. Or step-mom is shifting the blame for something onto your skinny 8-year old shoulders when it was her doing. Just go along. Don’t argue. Don’t have opinions.

    You’ve come a long way Pat and you’ve accomplished a lot. Now it’s time to let it go through your tears. Your strength is always there but tears are what’s needed now. They’ll come to an end. Find the time and energy to dance. While you’re grieving in the dark remember your friends have your back and we’re holding you in the light.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Wanda. You’ve been such a good friend. I appreciate your holding me in the light especially during these dark times. It seems impossible that I’m leading this insanely emotional life. Jeff and I always believed in keeping things on an even keel. But then, while he was alive, I was protected from this emotional onslaught.

  5. Paula Kaye Says:

    I don’t know what your age is Pat but I was raised in the 1950’s and that is how a lot of parents raised their kids. I don’t know that it was wrong. It was just a different time. I can remember having drilled into my head many times, by my mom, that we were to NEVER talk about what happened at home. And after reading your book Grief I can see that you are once again grieving. This time it is the loss of your brother. And your hopes for him. And the hopes for fixing the family. There is NOTHING wrong with grieving. I just lost my husband, my life/soul mate, three weeks ago tomorrow and it is the fact that I read your book that makes me know that what I am going through right now is something others have gone through before. I know that I will come out on the other side. I thank you for writing about your gut wrenching pain. I am right now re-reading it while I make my way through my own grief. Heads up always, Pat!!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Paula, I am so sorry about your husband. This has been hard for you. I’m glad you’re rereading my grief book. You do need to know that what you are feeling is something others have felt, and that no matter how crazy it seems, it’s normal. And you will get through this. My heart breaks for you. Sending hugs. Stop by when you need to talk.

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