Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The meaning of family.

It is the last day of the year - my husband, Mike's birthday - and I need to get some things off my chest so that I can leave it behind in 2019. That's how my brain works. Shit will bounce around in there until I get it out, so...here goes.

To start, 2019 was probably the most amazing year our family has experienced together, for all of the reasons that I have happily posted about for the world to see. A year ago, moving out of San Diego to Erie was a dream, something I hoped for but didn't...couldn't let myself believe would ever actually happen because our circumstances just weren't right for it. Circumstances change though and here we are - in our happy place!

Other events happened in 2019 that have been good for me, personally, but that I have not posted about as readily. My mother, Sally, died in May. On the day of her death, I wrote about her. It was something I had planned to do for most of my adult life, because there were parts of her story that no one knew. I grew up hearing from both of my parents about how she was never really accepted into my father's family because she was his second wife. I can't speak for my brother, but I know I never felt like a part of his family either. My mom didn't have the easiest life and I wanted to tell her story. I left out the parts that didn't shed the prettiest light on her.

Her death made me face a few things that I knew, but really only ever talked about to Mike and our daughter, Mackenzie. I never liked my family. I have not liked them in a very long time, but I've been able to avoid saying that because our military life has kept us far away from them. When my husband retired from the military in 2014 and we settled in San Diego, I no longer had that excuse. I lived a few hours away from my parents and still rarely saw them. That was by choice.

When their health began to decline and my brother was required to do more to take care of them, I might have felt guilty for a moment, but it didn't last. I had a job working for the VA and they were not the most understanding employer when it came to having a life and family outside of work. I took time off when my father had to have part of his foot amputated in 2018 due to his diabetes, but then I had to get back to my job. The brunt of the work of taking care of him, and our mother as well, fell on my brother.

The thing I didn't say then that I want to say now is, "Good. That is how it should be."

As a parent, I have tried to look back at the examples I had of what parents should be and everything I learned not to do came from how I was raised. I was the youngest and the only girl. Even though my two half-brothers from my father's first marriage didn't live with us, my mother never let me forget that they already had three boys and "didn't want a tomboy" for a daughter. That's why she said no every time I asked to try out for any kind of sports team.

I wasn't allowed to join clubs after school, because that would make someone have to arrange to pick me up afterward. So much time was already being taken to go watch every single baseball and football game or every track meet of my brother's. Once we were in high school and he had a driver's license, I could not join a club after school because he had to be able to drive me home right after school and then get to whatever practice he had and there was always some kind of practice.

There is one thing I cannot take away from him. He was a gifted athlete. It was a joy to watch him play. I just don't think he realized how many lives revolved around his. He relished how so many idolized him. What's funny is how lucky everyone thought I was to be graced to live in his presence. Oh, how far from the truth that was!

Recently someone made a comment about how I seemed to rarely miss a baseball game back then. That one innocent comment made me so angry! I wasn't angry at that person though. I was angry because it was true. I never missed a game. It wasn't that I rarely missed one. I never missed a game, but it wasn't by choice. I was never allowed to stay home by myself. Even sick, I had to go because my parents would not miss watching him play. I have sat through games with a fever. I've gone to out-of-town games when I really should have been home writing papers or doing homework.

All of those memories came to a head this year when my mother died because I never told her exactly how that childhood affected me as an adult. I hated her for making my life revolve around someone else for so long. It wasn't until I was 24 that I made a decision - to join the Army - without consulting her first or getting her permission. The reason I always had to get her permission prior to that was because I relied on my parents financially. After one year of college, she said, "Girls don't need a college education. Get a job." I did get a job doing the only thing I knew how to do - type. I worked as a secretary, but couldn't make enough money to ever completely be independent. Joining the Army was the one thing that I didn't need their help to pay for, so they couldn't say no.

Since giving birth to my first child, I have used my childhood as the example of what not to do as a parent. Never was my daughter going to be told she couldn't do something just because she was a girl. Once we had a second child, Mike and I agreed that we would divide and conquer if necessary when they were older so that neither child was ever denied an opportunity to do something they wanted to do.

I never told any of them that though. I might make a comment occasionally about my childhood in front of my brother, just to see what he had to say. It never registered with him though. I recently told my father that I am continuing the tradition now that began in his house when I was a child - I am the shadow of the family. Back then, I was the shadow in the back bedroom or in the backseat of the car. Now I am the shadow across country in Pennsylvania. For nearly 30 years, I've reveled in the bliss of not having to deal with them and thus, never having to tell them how growing up in that household affected me.

When Sally went into the hospital in May, I had to actually admit that it really wasn't important enough to me to change all of my plans to get there to see her before she died. I could have. I lived only a few hours away. I couldn't do it though. Mackenzie was graduating college in just a few days (her graduation was three days after my mom died). Mike and I had just quit our jobs. As soon as graduation was over, I was staying to help Mackenzie get packed up because we were all hitting the road for Pennsylvania. To drop everything just to go sit by the death bed of a woman who never dropped anything for me just didn't work for me.

Go ahead and say it. I'm a shitty daughter. It's probably true, but you know what? I'm a damn good mother because of what I learned from that woman.

There was no service for Sally. That was by her choice. I found out a few weeks ago that my father and brother apparently decided to have one anyway. My mom is the only other person besides me to have served in the military and is therefore entitled to be buried at a national cemetery. I would have never known about that service if it wasn't for the fact that my name was listed with the cemetery as a contact; my brother's was not. My father had no clue how to call the cemetery to make any arrangements, so I had handled all of that back when she first died.

This is the part that has been rattling around in my head and the reason I needed to get out of bed early today and write. The service that they planned for Sally with full military honors, presentation of a flag and burial was yesterday. If I had not had to call the cemetery and give permission to do that, because I had told them back in May that she didn't want a service, I would not have even known about it. Bottom line...I would not have even been invited to my own mother's funeral.

Let that sink in for a minute. I've been trying to let it sink in for weeks now, but it just won't.

I've been trying to process why they would go against her wishes and have a service, but then I thought maybe they need that closure. If that's the case, fine. I get it. To try to schedule it and not tell me though...that is beyond my understanding. I asked my brother, albeit by text because I couldn't bring myself to call him, if he would have told me there was going to be a service at all if he hadn't needed me to call the cemetery to give permission for it to happen. He never replied.

Forgive me for a minute, but...that spineless ass never replied! Seriously! What the hell?

Ok, sorry...had to rant for a second. I'd love to know their reasons for not wanting me there. Is it because I wasn't there to help when she was sick, or because I didn't bother to try to see her before she died? My son fought cancer for two and a half years before he died. My father never came to see him in that time. My mother came once, during the few months when we thought Keeghan was cured. In other words, when there was no help needed from her. She showed up and sat on her ass for a week and made us wait on her. My brother came to see us twice. When Keeghan was first diagnosed with cancer, my husband's sister wanted me to have someone from my own family there for me so she bought him a ticket to fly to Houston. And then again after Keeghan died, a total stranger who lived on the base we were stationed at and who had suffered a similar loss previously offered to pay to fly my brother out to Washington, DC to be at the celebration of life we held for Keeghan. Twice he visited and both times were somewhat forced on him.

The bitterness just keeps pouring out, doesn't it? I have not tried to be there to help with my parents. I haven't felt the obligation. My brother should feel obligated though. He has been the center of their universe ever since he was born. Life is as it should be.

I've been trying to process all of this for a while now. If I was only angry, it would be easy. Anger and I are pretty close friends. What makes it all so difficult and frustrating is that it hurts. The fact that they still have the power to hurt me is like the ultimate twist of the knife. This...THIS is why I have made being a good mother my highest priority since I became one. Do I think I have been perfect? Hell, no! But I knew what the choices I made as a mother could do to my children later on. When I someday die, I don't want my daughter to grieve. Parents are supposed to die. I hope to be older than dirt when it happens because I truly love life, but when my time comes, I want my daughter to celebrate the life I had. I want her to always be able to celebrate the life she had with us as parents. I want her to know she is loved. I have no doubt that my parents loved me in their own weird way, but it never felt like love. Looking back, it still doesn't feel like love.

2019 is over. 2020 is a new starting point in so many ways for me, Mike and Mackenzie. This last day of the year is the perfect time to let go of negativity. It is time to let go of anger. It's time to say enough! Enough of worrying about what cannot be changed and just accept it for what it is. Everyone has fucked up people in their lives. I've just never said it out loud before. It's done now. Time to move on and continue living the life I've built, with the family we've built.

It was still dark when I got out of bed to write. The sun is up now...or at least I assume it is. It's gray and windy outside and it has just begun to snow. I freaking love snow. It's going to be a good day. I've found my peace. I hope they find theirs as well.