Monday, May 12, 2008

Off my chest

There are very few people that I have been unable to forgive for the stupid things they have said or done. Generally, I don't hold a grudge very long. I may be upset for a reasonable period of time, but as the waves of time wash over my anger, it fades, quiets and disappears.

For example, when I called my high school friend from my hospital bed and she suggested that C. was a test child, you know, so that I "would know what it was like to be pregnant." - well, I actually don't hate her. Mostly I feel sorry for her. How can you really blame someone for having the emotional maturity of a 16 year old when all she worries about is when can I see the coolest new band in Vancouver? She is an emotional child; I don't hate her. I'm not even angry anymore. (more bewildered, actually...).

Sorry, off on a tangent there.

But I just read this post and it has me thinking about that third that have behaved in a way that I would never have imagined it possible. And there are two faces that are burned into my retina, smiling and happy and so out of reach; people who should have been there, but weren't.

When the phone call went out to my BIL/SIL on that cold, dark, impossible January night, I tried to be reasonable when they told us they couldn't come. They couldn't bring their young children on a 2 hour road trip on such a cold night. I tried to ignore the voice in my head that was pointing out that almost every other person in the room had travelled the exact same distance, in the exact same weather, at the exact same time.

When my BIL arrived alone the next day, I tried to understand his reasons for not bringing his wife and my nieces - people who I needed to hold in my arms and to hold me. He probably gave reasonable explanations - I honestly no longer remember.

I still struggle to understand why they chose not to bring the kids to the funeral. But that was a parenting decision that I am forced to respect. Though I do respect it, I missed the living, beautiful faces of my nieces on that horrible, horrible day. And I felt like the questions I was forced to answer in the weeks that followed might have been curtailed by having the girls there.

There was no doubt in my mind, however, that they would be there for us, no matter what, and that they would understand. My SIL won a battle with cancer in her early 20s, but lost her ovaries in the process. They built their family through adoption. They would know something of loss and of starting over. In this train of thought, I leaned as heavily as a thought I could. I leaned like someone who needed to be carried.

I wasn't sure what was happening when they didn't seem to be checking in on us as much as I thought they might. Or why it suddenly became harder to get them on the phone.

A couple of months passed. Then came the conversation with my SIL when I shared an experience that was very difficult for me and she tried to make me see it through the eyes of someone much further down the road of grief. I was hurt that she tried to push me like that. I didn't say anything, but I think she sensed my hurt and that was when the Great Deep Freeze of '05 began.

When I called in July and left the message on their machine (Hi, it's me. We aren't doing very well. Maybe we could come on our days off and spend some time with the girls - take them to the water park while you are at work. I think it would do us good to spend time with them), and we didn't get a call back... well... I knew the Deep Freeze was now in full effect.

She was tired of me. Maybe, they were tired of us (don't know about that, though. Maybe it was all me...)

Since then, we might see them 5 times in a year. Maybe talk on the phone 3 times. A mere fraction of our previous interaction. Sadly, these were people that I thought would be one of the foundations of our lives. When I married my husband, I was thrilled to be gaining an older brother and sister. Advice, camaraderie, growing families together - it was going to be like a Hallmark movie.

Where are we now? They screen our calls. Last year, my BIL declined to become BB's godfather. My husband and I speak resentful words about them in the privacy of our own home. Every interaction with them seems to bring a new low.

I don't know what to do. The obvious thing would be to talk about it, right? But, talk about WHAT? It's like the early years of Global Warming - no one had any proof. Scientists couldn't point to statistics and data and explain exactly how they knew what was happening. It is all stuff that happens in unspoken and unremarkable ways.

There are no specifics. I suppose I could say "I think you don't like me much. I think you screen my calls. I think you avoid me. I want to be your friend and your sister and an involved aunt, but you don't seem interested. I want my son to know you and your children. I want the Deep Freeze to end."

However, studied in the bold light of day, that type of conversation seems like utter nonsense. I cannot think of any scenario wherein I would feel any sense of assurance that this conversation would get me anywhere. I just don't think it would fly.

So, if you've stayed with me this long, I have to say I don't know what to do. Maybe there is nothing to be done. Maybe I need to get about the business of getting over it and moving on (ha!).

I am sad that these people aren't in my life the way I expected.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. Of course, there are so many intricacies and subtleties that I am glossing over here. I understand, intellectually, many of the choices they have made over the past 3.5 years. It's my heart that is calling foul, not my head. It is all complicated and layered and drives me to distraction.


Rosepetal said...

I'm sorry that someone that should be a close part of your family is so absent. Do you now actually want to "patch it up" (despite not knowing what to patch) with them? Or are you and your husband ready to accept the status quo?

I don't speak to my BIL as unlike you I am unable to forgive the fact that he said V died at an inconvenient time for him. (Not that he has ever asked for any forgiveness or apologised). He lives less than 30 mins drive from us. My own brother lives on another continent and I see him more often than I or even my husband see my BIL.

I suppose you get news about their family via your in-laws and maybe vice versa? Can you meet on any neutral ground, like a family barbecue or something, at your in-laws' place? To begin to break the ice of the deep freeze?

kate said...

That is sad and i don't really understand it. I don't have any words of advice about it, either. Obviously it would be healing for you to break the ice, as rosepetal said, but how to do that -- especially as they don't seem to want to. I mean, if he refused to be BB's godfather? That is pretty clear. It doesn't make a lot of sense though, why they should be like this.

~S said...

I'm sorry that you have this going on in your life. I just had "the" conversation with my SIL last week...the, "Why don't you like me? Can't we all just get along?" talk. It didn't go very well. It was extremely awkward when we saw them last weekend. Sadly, sometimes there just aren't way to patch things up. I just tried to release the hurt from my heart, and I'll wait to see what happens.

After having had the conversation, however, I do feel more at peace. I feel like I've done all I can to have a relationship with them. If you would feel this way, too, then by all means, give it a go. Just ask yourself what you want the outcome to be, and realize that to get it, you might have to hold your tongue...alot. I did.

In the end, I just had to let go of the picture I had in my head of a happy extended family, and I'm looking to fulfill those relationships in other ways.

That's just my experience...for what it's worth. Wishing you all the best...

Catherine said...

Steve and I dreamed of molding our families into a big extended happy network. Steve is the youngest of six and I was so excited to enjoy this big family.

We were rewarded for our efforts with unanswered birthday cards, unreturned phone calls, unacknowledged milestones (and that was BEFORE our dead baby experiences). So we stopped trying and we now have very little left of our relationships with those people (polite conversation once or twice a year at most).

I wish I could say that I regret the decision to cut them loose. But I find it's so much nicer to not have expectations that will only lead to disappointments and hurt feelings. I'd rather invest my time and energy in relationships with people who are similarly makes it much more rewarding for all of us.

Pipsylou said...

I leaned like someone who needed to be carried.

Wow. So dead on.

It is so freeing just to let go. You can't control the relationship; it hurts to try when you are just holding onto shards and the glass is constantly cutting your fingers the more tightly you hold on.

Sometimes you just have to let go and let those who WERE there hold the bandage and help you cry.

Bronwyn said...

It's always hard when people who should be there for us let us down. I could almost understand some of your ILs behaviour until I got to the part where your husband's brother declined to be BB's godfather. Who declines to be a godparent?

I can sympathize -- I've given up trying to have a fruitful relationship with my brother and his wife (who chose to have their wedding on Lydia's first anniversary, and expected me to fly to France to be a bridesmaid. Like a fool I did.) I've decided that while it would be wonderful if everyone who was important to me made an effort to understand my grief, it's okay that they don't. I have my husband and my parents to turn to when things get really bad and that's enough. And when I just need to bitch and moan I can do it in the blogsphere!

niobe said...

Reading this makes me realize that there are many people who would describe my behavior as similar to your ILs. I've cut so many people off -- I don't return their calls or emails and never see them any more. It's hard, even though it's my own choice. It's just easier than having to deal with them.

Katie said...

Just wanted to add an AMEN. I cannot, for all my thoughts and contemplation, figure out why others seem to find my loss more difficult for them, then for me.