Monday, July 13, 2009

Mourning A Family Under Fire

Sometimes I get in these moods where even though I don't know what to say, I must write, like some primal impetus has taken hold of my fingers and glues them to the pencil or keyboard. This is one of those moments. Bear with me.
It has been a turbulently quiet day. I awoke late, cheeks still salty from a good cry I had the previous night. My grandmother is getting worse and my mother is exhausted as her sole caregiver. My father is working in California and rarely gets to see her, and my little brother will be going back to school in Washington soon and will no longer be able to support her in her efforts. I invited my parents to go on a cruise in January to celebrate the final completion of my long-awaited bachelor's degree. But money and time intervened and they ended up having to say no. And I cried about it. Almost-24-year-old that I am, I bawled like a toddler refused her favorite toy. I know I am being selfish, and bitter, but somehow I had made the mistake of placing the yearnings of my whole heart on that six-day trip with my family. I had imagined the time I would spend with them, being celebrated by them for my accomplishment. I could picture getting dressed up for dinner in one of the fancy on-board restaurants, my father raising his beer and toasting me as their first child to graduate from college. I saw myself rising early and going jogging on the track with my mom impressing her with my unwonted fitness, after which we finally went for the manicure she's been inviting me to every time I've seen her for the past three years, me sporting my shapely, unbitten nails that I had worked so hard to grow for her approval. I could see us exploring Disney World together on the way down, Nassau and the pirate museum on the way back, with my dad offering to rent a sailboat and let me steer like I used to when I was five in the sunny harbors of California. I pictured the pride on my parents faces that their little girl had finally gotten her life together, had finally become someone.
So I cried. I cried that my grandmother is sick and unable to take care of herself, that the care of her and my handicapped uncle has sapped my mom of all her strength and joy, that my father feels second rate compared to his ailing mother-in-law. I even cried, selfishly, because my brother is helping my mom when I can't. I want to be the child she can rely on, the child she turns to when she needs a break, a glass of wine and a good movie to make her forget about her many jobs for a little while. Instead I am locked here on the East Coast, a four day drive or $400 plane ticket away from visiting my family. I have obligations to fulfill here, family to care for that-- while they accept me as one of their own-- are not truly mine in the most basic sense. I have no job, and no money with which to purchase a trip of such magnitude and just pick up and fly to my family's aid.
While I was crying to remembered the times when, in high school, I would get punished for some seemingly insignificant transgression or another, and while sulking throughout my punishment, repeat to myself the most heartbreaking promise I have ever made: "Someday, I'll get away from them. Far away, where I can live my own life and they can't bother me." I regret that promise. What a horrendous way to realize that the old adage holds true: "Be careful what you wish for." I would give anything to be a part of my family once again.
My husband and I discussed the idea of sending me out for an extended visit, for a month or so. I could stay with my mom, after my brother has left for school, and help her attend to my grandmother, take her shopping and clean for her, take her for walks, and finally get a chance to write down all those old stories she told us when we were little about her childhood before they die with her. I hate myself for wishing it, but... if I do make it out there, I want her to die while I'm there. I don't want to learn about her passing from yet another foreboding phone call that leaves me with a phone phobia, like the one that came with news of my brother's leukemia. For nearly a year I rushed to the phone anytime day or night, nearly panicked with the news it would give me. I don't want that again. I want to be there, able to comfort my favorite grandmother in her last moments, able to console my mom and hug my ridiculously tall and skinny little brother so tight that I can clasp both of my own elbows. Able to see my mom and dad free to be a part of each other's lives again. I don't want yet another major family ordeal to happen when I'm too far away to be a part of it, when I come shuffling in after the fact like a dog who knows he's been a nuisance. Obviously I don't want my grandmother to die now. But I also don't want her to live like this, as a burden on my mother and a wedge in her marriage. As an alternately absent and embittered "patient" in a retirement community that she'll never consider home, pushing away and verbally abusing the one child who has stepped forward to care for her in her time of need.
I want... but I don't know what I want, much less what is needed. Only the Lord knows that, the God of Abraham, who has planted and uprooted nations. Does his gaze that encompasses the whole earth see the trials of my family? Does his heart swell with our suffering as does my own? I know it does. The God who watched his own Son die on a cross, helpless to turn the hearts of those he died for, must know what it is like to watch a family put under fire, to watch a loved one fading, to be helpless and faraway while the effects of sin and death on a ruined world hurt the ones you love the most. And if he knows my pain, and if he loves me and my family, which he created with loving hands and died for, how can he not desire to intervene, to soothe the burns with the pure salve of his love? And my God, who is vastly wiser than my selfish, hurting heart, knows exactly what needs to be done, and he will do it in his mighty way, and someday, we will look back on this time, this trial, with gratitude in our eyes. May it be.

1 comment:

  1. I love and miss you so much. As hard of a year it consistently was when you first moved away, it's nothing like the sharp pangs of not having you to hug in those moments that grandma is slipping away or mom is at her tipping point.

    But you should know one thing that I can never quite put to words well well enough, that I am SO proud of who you are and what you are doing. You're priorities, character, and steadfastness will always impress me so long as you stay the course that is right for you. I won't always agree with it (it's hard as hell to be OK with being on opposite coasts 9 months out of the year), but you are doing what is right for you even with a lot of pressuring forces. We all understand why you have to do what you do, don't ever forget that.