Enabling or Decency and Caring?

Kaypacha Pele says that this week’s mantra is:

“I feel that Life is upping the stakes,
Just to see what it will take,
To get me to stand up tall and straight.”

Oh, so very true! I’m in a difficult situation, one in which there is no real solution, no right way of dealing with problem, no wrong way. And the situation keeps escalating beyond anything I’ve ever had to deal with before. (I was going to say escalating beyond my power to deal with it, but that isn’t correct. I am dealing with it. Just don’t know what the right way is, or if there is a right way.)

In Applying the Lessons of Grief, I wrote about a homeless sibling who is depressed, possibly bi-polar, probably an alcoholic, verbally abusive, furious, manipulative, desperately needy, and relentless in pursuit those needs. (He’s also brilliant and exceedingly creative, and spent most of his life composing music and writing songs.) He has been living here for several months, and therein lies the problem since his anger now seems to be focused on me. (He thinks I have it easy looking after my father, and doesn’t see how stressful it is being torn between the two of them, as I have been my whole life.) If I could find out what he wanted, perhaps I could help, but he is cagy (paranoid is more like it) and talks around his needs. (He hates being a charity case, hates when people do things for him, and hates even more when people don’t.) He won’t go for treatment, blames everyone else for his problems, and doesn’t know how to take care of himself. Mostly, it seems as if he is lost inside a whirlwind of unfocused energy.

Although my father would like to invite him to live here, it’s not possible. My brother is restless, doesn’t sleep, is unable to stay still. He’d wander away in the middle of the night, leaving the front door wide open. He is a pack rat, surrounding himself with piles and piles and piles of trash, never shuts up, drinks constantly, all of which made my 97-year-old father a nervous wreck. And me, too, actually. When my brother stayed in the house, he used to come into my room every night and scream invectives at me (“porky pig” and “whore” are about the two nicest things he has ever said), because he thought I was working against him in his efforts to reconcile with our father.

For the last few months, he’s been camping out in the garage, which has seemed to be the best solution all around. My father could relax and go about his business of growing ever older and at the same time could be assured my brother was taken care of. Of course, that care fell on me. I’d make sure he had food, clean clothes, access to a shower, arranged for dental care and even made sure he kept the appointments. A couple of times when he was too crippled with sciatica to make his daily trek to the liquor store, I made the trip for him. (I can hear you screaming “enabler!” But it is not my place to decide when he is going to stop drinking.)

When he gets wound up in his whirlwind of unfocused energy, he becomes relentless in his need to be heard. He often knocks on my window at night, wanting to talk, and I used to answer the knock because . . . well, isn’t that something we all want? To be heard? Unfortunately, what he usually wanted to tell me is how fat, lazy, stupid and useless I am, living in a cocoon of ease that I don’t deserve. When I refuse to answer his knock, he bangs on the window every few minutes for hours. I’ve gotten used to it, and ignore it, though a couple of times the neighbors called the police. (I asked the police what they could do — they said they could arrest him. “Then what?” I asked. They said, “We let him go. If he comes back, we can arrest him again.” I asked, “Then what?” “We can arrest him again.” I said, “Then what?” “Arrest him.” Oh, yeah, like I want to spend the rest of my life caught in the hamster wheel of the justice system.)

It all came to a head yesterday. After a sleepless night due to his shenanigans, I went out to tell him I’d be gone most of the day (to keep him from disturbing my father with his endless pounding on my windows for attention) and found my car covered with invectives written in black marker. Some of the markings came clean with toothpaste (makes me wonder what it’s doing to our teeth if it’s such an all-purpose cleaner) but other markings didn’t come clean at all, not with Windex, Magic Eraser, isopropyl alcohol or any of the other possible solutions I found on the internet, so I painted over the words with acrylic paint. He was lying in his sleeping bag, laughing drunkenly at me while I was cleaning my car. I was so angry, I kicked him and kicked him again. (Not something I am proud of. I also almost strangled him once and slapped him another time. Never in my entire adult life have I lifted a hand to another human being, not even in self-defense, and yet somehow, he raises true homicidal tendencies in me.)

I cleaned my car, went to an exercise class, and at lunch afterward (well, we had to replace all those burnt calories, didn’t we?) I mentioned my problem. Later, I got a call from one of the women, a retired psychiatric nurse. She was kind, but pointed out that I was enabling him. That I had to call the police, get him out of here. At the very least, she told me I needed to start keeping a journal of his abuse. (I started last night.) She also suggested my leaving for a while or spending entire days or weekends away so that my father wouldn’t take me so much for granted. (He can still mostly take care of himself, so it’s not a problem if I leave.) Told me that I’m being torn between two puppet masters.

Oddly, hers wasn’t the only unsolicited advice I got yesterday.

A friend who is a holistic therapist with Buddhist leanings told me that there was no right or wrong. That if I kept helping my brother as a fellow human being, that was okay, just not to take his karma on myself.

An astrologer told me that according to my horoscope, I need to let go of being attached to a past dysfunctional emotional pattern or pain that began in childhood. (Oh, so true! One reason I am sympathetic to my brother is that I remember the bewildered boy and angry teen trying to deal with a my-way-or-the-highway father.)

A writer friend told me to keep a journal of what my brother does, and to write a book about it someday.

This is all so complicated. I do understand about enabling and tough love and all the rest of it, but where does one draw the line? It’s important to me to be decent and caring. It’s also important to me not to end up in prison for manslaughter. (How fitting that word is! The “mans laughter” was the final straw.)

I considered leaving and letting the two men fend for or fend off each other, but I am making friends here, have made various plans for the next couple of months, and am not yet ready to be homeless myself.

In the end, it was my own response to my brother’s abuse that turned something off inside of me. I can see that as a fellow human being, he deserves certain basics, such as cleanliness, so I told my father that from now on, if my brother wanted to take a shower, he was to come to the front door and ask. If he wanted food, he was to come to the front door and ask. Since this is my father’s house, it is up to him to allow my brother access or not. I don’t want to have anything to do with my brother any more. While I might be sympathetic to his plight, he made choices that I never did. (We both knew from a young age that we inherited a tendency toward alcoholism and substance dependency. I stayed away from both; he ran toward them with open arms.)

Life. Such a strange thing it is. I hope I am standing up tall and straight.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: Cleaning Up the Past

Thirty weeks and still counting. I’ve already stopped counting the days since my life mate — my soul mate — died, soon I’ll stop counting the weeks, and eventually I’ll stop counting the months. Perhaps there will even come a time when the anniversary of his death goes unnoticed. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Whatever happens in my life, he will always be a part of it — almost everything I do, feel, say relates to him in some way. He was instrumental in making me who I am, and his death is the catalyst to make me who I will become, though I still don’t feel different from who I was before he died. So much of the change in me came before his death, during the long years of his dying.

During the last year of his life, as the cancer spread from his kidney up to his brain, he spent more and more time alone. I thought I coped well with the situation, continuing with my life, taking his dying for granted. I thought I’d moved on. In fact, I told him I’d be okay after he was gone, that I’d finished with my grieving. And I believed it.

After he died, the depth of my grief stunned me. His death shattered my state of suspended animation, and I was appalled by the way I’d behaved that last year. How could I possibly have taken his dying for granted? How could I have refused to see what he was feeling? How could I have become impatient with his growing weakness, his reclusiveness, his inability to carry on the long ping-ponging conversations that had characterized our relationship? How could I not have treasured his every word? Even after his diagnosis, even after we’d apologized for any wrongs, even after we become as close as we had been at the beginning, I continued to think I wouldn’t grieve. How could I have not known how much I still loved him?

I’d been living that last year over and over again in memory, trying to make it come out right, but no matter what I did, I could not change the past. It haunted me, that year. I could feel everything I refused to feel back then, and it about crushed me. A few days ago, while I was crying uncontrollably, I remembered hearing something during my grief support group session that struck a bell, so I checked back over the paper the counselor had read to us. “Self protection — denying the meaning of the loss.” Aha!

I had never denied his dying, just the immediacy of it. (Which is not surprising. He had the strongest determination of anyone I’d ever met, and he kept rallying until he couldn’t rally anymore.) But unconsciously (or subconsciously), I had denied what his death would mean to me. Denied what he meant to me.

After my aha moment, I started wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t gone into suspended animation, and I realized if, during that last year, I had let myself see what he was feeling, let myself feel what his dying and his death would mean to me, I would have been in such agony I would have cried all the time. He would have hated that he was causing me so much pain, which would have made me feel even worse. I still couldn’t have done anything for him, so eventually I would have blocked out all that was happening. I would have gone on with my own life and left his dying to him. I would have become impatient with the restrictions of our life, with his weakness, with his retreat into himself. In other words, even if I could have gone back and relived that year knowing the truth of it, my behavior would have been the same. And he would still have died.

With that realization, my tears stopped. I continue to have teary moments, but I am at peace with the way I acted that last year of his life. I still wish I could have done something to make that last year easier for him, of course, but perhaps I did — with all his troubles, at least he didn’t have to deal with my grief.