Saturday, April 14, 2012

When Parents are Enemies

My mother passed away a few weeks ago. She died of the same condition my father died from two years ago -- hospitalitis. That is -- you go into the hospital for one serious condition, and while there, the treatment results in unintended consequences, like aspirating fluid into the lungs, central line infection, and finally sepsis, which causes death.

They were both elderly with ailments and while neither one was terminally ill, they were not averse to dying. Their deaths were terribly sad, but not tragic. They had lived lives of consequence, filled with strong and loving stories. Their most generous stories, regrettably for me, were not about each other.

They were snipers. They sprayed each other with bullets of harshness and of indifference. Any dried up piece of turf could become their battleground. My father salted the food she prepared without tasting it -- blast! My mother smoked her secret cigarettes in the bathroom and saturated the house with the sickly evergreen air freshener she used to mask the shameful smoke odor -- blast!

No hand holding. No mushy names for each other. Just the binding routines of taking care of a business and a family, which substituted for marriage.

As they got older and physically impaired, the animosity grew worse. He, once the boss of a manufacturing plant, only had her to control. She, once the supervisor of the office pool in that plant, only had her own tiny tasks left to organize. He griped at her for not getting the mail on time. She expanded her silence.

I think he really did love her and was clueless about how to ever show it in a way that could touch her. He felt his inadequacy, was defeated by its weight, and retreated into TV and food. I don't think she ever did really like him. She resented him for not being enough and punished him with her indifference.

Age and illness did not undo them as a couple. All the fractures had been there for decades, growing wider and deeper. Age and illness just represented a new terrain. It constricted the bounds of their world and gave them fewer distractions and places to hide from each other.

I loved them both. Admired them both. Not for who they were to each other, but for who they were to me and to the world. They were good and kind. They gave ceaselessly to anyone who needed their comfort or benevolence. They were smart and funny.

I often wonder what it would have been like to have had parents who knew how to love each other.

Do you have (or had) parents who are good to each other? What is that like? Are your parents more like mine? What's that like for you?


Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

My parents are snipers too. Ceaseless, constant nasty tone of voice and accusatory volume that grates on me. My solution-not have contact with them. We hadn't spoken for decades when my younger sister died suddenly and we all met in OK to bury her. We barely exchanged greetings and I refused to spend the night in her "king-sized bed" in her hotel; I gratefully stayed with Sis's SIL next door to MIL where all the nieces and nephews and their friends were too.

I must protect myself and when forced to be in contact with them my mental health, rapidly followed by my physical health, declines and makes me sick in a number of ways: migraine hits, nausea, vomiting, spasms, joint pain and swelling... It took me years to learn this and both my sibs who have stayed in touch with her have died of heart disease before they hit fifty-my mom is bad for the health of her own children. Pretty bad, huh?

Doing well tho now as long as I remember to keep my head space looking up and use good sense in my relationships with others.

cinderkeys said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

When I was maybe 10 years old, my parents told my sister and me that they were lucky because they liked us. They said all parents love their kids, but not every parent likes their kids. I didn't understand at all. Love was just a whole lot of like, right?

Then my mother blew my mind by saying that sometimes even married couples didn't like each other.

My parents love each other and like each other. That's not to say that every moment is sunshine and roses, but they're happier together than apart.