Monday, May 12, 2008

Reflections on family

My mother died in 1984 from ovarian cancer. The year was hellish on many levels. My mother and I had never been close; she was cold, a hypochondriac, paranoid, fearful. She self-medicated with pills and alcohol, and did not get the help she so desperately needed. There were circumstances that drove her to the mental state she lived, but suffice it to say that, as one of ten children, she struggled for attention and never had the tools to properly nurture. Far from it; at one point, she told me that if I had been a better daughter, she would never have gotten ovarian cancer.

My father died in 1996 from pulminary fibrosis, a calcifying of the lungs which causes suffocation. He'd had lung cancer 25 years before, and this pulminary fibrosis developed eventually because of the aggressive treatment he'd had for the lung cancer. Pa was one of seven, but not as cleanly as my mother was. My father's mother and father were divorced when he was four; she eventually remarried, and her second husband (grandpa) had five children with his first wife, Molly, who had died from cancer. Then grandma and grandpa had one more child, rounding out the seven.

My father was a fun guy; he was the classic "hale fellow well met", a screw-up in business, and a drinker. He was unhappy in his marriage, but refused to divorce because it just wasn't good for the children. I don't think he ever forgave me for divorcing, but that's another story.

While I was in Chicago, my mother's sister Sally died at age 98. This leaves only two of the ten left, and they are both in their 90s. And yesterday, I received an email from one of my cousins telling me that my father's sister Anne died May 8th. He had a link to the obituary, and the shock of all shocks: since Anne was one of grandpa's five from his first wife, the obituary only listed those siblings - a complete erasure of my father and my aunt Junie. Aunt Anne was the last of my father's siblings - so now, my brother and I, and our cousins on Pa's side are the older generation. We're it. And I feel adrift in a world of chaos.

My upbringing was not easy. Still, with the tools of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, I feel that I've made strides in forgiving my parents for their mistakes - my mother did not have any tools, and frankly, what she experienced was pretty awful. I know that she did the best she could with absolutely no tools for living. I know that she was not intentionally cruel, but that she really thought she was doing her best. I know that I did NOT cause her ovarian cancer. And I know that I've become a better mother even though I didn't have an example of good mothering to follow.

Still, I feel that I lack something, some deep ability to make a real connection with others. I live alone, and I am happy to isolate. I have friends, and I do see them with regularity, but am equally happy to sit at home without contact with others. That's so weird! Even I know it's peculiar. But reading that obituary yesterday put me in a very dark place.

At any rate, Beanie and my daughter called me yesterday morning to wish me happy Mommy's day. Beanie talked a lot, she's really exploded in her language skills, and she's having a field day making fun of my snoring. Then my son called in the evening to wish me happy Mother's day, and I had a great conversation with him. He's so funny, and he's brilliant. I am very proud of my kids, despite the fact that they don't get along with each other. My fault, I know it. I don't know how to fix it, as they are 37 and almost 35. I'm done raising them.

Life is messy. Family is messy. We all do the best we can, and we all muddle through. But today, today I feel a bit blue, and lost, in a sea of chaos.


D.K. Raed said...

Oh Diva, thank you for sharing all this. My mom also died of ovarian cancer. All those memories just come flooding back on Mother's Day.

I don't think it's wierd to want to be alone sometimes. Some people are loners, some are hermits, others very social. You are what you are.

Too true that "life is messy". But the blue day goes by, then another, and eventually you see the chaos looking a bit more organized. In theory, at least. Go with the flow.

DivaJood said...

Thanks, DK. It's really so interesting, because most of the time, I'm fairly happy. But then these feelings of restlessness, irritability and discontent raise their heads and here I am.

I like that life is messy - it makes it far more interesting. As for your mom, and mine - ovarian cancer is such a silent killer, because by the time a woman is symptomatic, it's too late. Just keep getting yourself checked on a regular basis. I have yearly ultrasound. And this is WITHOUT ovaries.

D.K. Raed said...

My mom presented in Stage IV, but I blame some of that on Alzheimer's because possibly if she'd been more mentally aware, she might've recognized some symptoms earlier?!? Her doctor told my sisters and me the best thing we could do was to remove our ovaries now. One sister did that. Other sis & I do the yearly ultrasound. I think once I conquer this menopause thing, I will be more in a mood to address my ovaries directly (maybe with a megaphone).

I also like life being unpredictable, not boring. Any restlessness & irritability, I blame on Mpause w/out HRT. For me, it's especially bad at night.

robin andrea said...

I keep trying to write something here, but I keep deleting everything I write. Nothing seems sufficient. It is incredibly touching that you shared this part of your life history. It gives insight into aspects of who you are. There is pain in life and often it gives shape to how we identify ourselves. We learn to live and grieve.

DivaJood said...

DK, the Alzheimers did not prevent your mom from recognizing symptoms: Ovarian does not present symptoms until it's stage IV. And, even when ovaries are removed, we can still get a primary peritoneal cancer which is why I still do ultrasounds every year.

Robin, I think we are all like the phoenix - we rise out of the ashes of grief and pain into beautiful birds. One of my favorite dreamings from Australia is Brolga Dreaming - Brolga was a woman who turned into a bird because of her beautiful dance.