So This is 2013 . . .

My father has lung cancer. Neither of my parents are talking to me about it. What I hear trickles down from conversations between Mom and Jerri. I have no idea what the truth is since history has shown my mother to be an unreliable narrator and Jerri doesn’t understand much of what Mom says. At first, Jerri said it was stage 1 which meant the cancer had been caught in the earliest phase, consisted of a single tumor in one lung that could likely be removed with surgery, and my dad would have a 60-80% 5-year survival rate. Now Jerri says it is stage 4 which is the last phase and indicates the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. About 40% of lung cancer patients are already stage 4 when diagnosed. Average life expectancy following diagnosis is about 8 months and less than 10% survive for 5 years. What a difference one little number makes.

My parents called our other relatives to tell them of Dad’s cancer. They did not call me. Having NOT notified me, Mom still managed to be shocked that I hadn’t called Dad to express condolences. She told Jerri I would be sorry after Dad is gone. Sadly, it feels like she is almost looking forward to the day so she will have one more weapon in her arsenal to wield against me. “Your father was dying from cancer and you didn’t even visit him. You never even called!”

I emailed my parents the following:

It’s unreasonable to expect me to respond to news I receive third-hand—you don’t even know for sure that I’ve received it–so please know that in the future, I will only respond to news that comes from you. For example, if Dad is in the hospital and you or Dad don’t tell me, I will assume you don’t want me to know and you don’t want me to visit. Please don’t use Jerri to communicate information to me or to gather information about me. If there is something you’d like to share or know, you can call or email at anytime.

Mom’s reply:

Terri, I assumed that you did not want ANY CONTACT WITH US AS IT HAS BEEN YEARS SINCE YOU HAVE.

What is interesting in this response is I have never, not once, told them I don’t want contact. I just stopped initiating contact myself. They interpreted that to mean we were no longer speaking. They have never, not once, acknowledged that it takes two parties to “not speak.” They have informed our relatives that “Terri is no longer speaking to us.” They failed to inform the relatives that they are no longer speaking to me. They accept no responsibility in any of this which demonstrates that all along the responsibility for our relationship has been mine and mine alone. I suppose I’ve always known this. It is why, after the fallout, I stopped calling them. I needed to validate my theory. And now I have.

Is this twisted or is it just me? Please, somebody, some objectivity!

As the Trophydaughter in this family, there is immense pressure for me to step up now and “do the right thing” which is presumably forget all the pain they’ve inflicted on all of us (Jerri, her children, and me), the coercive scheming that has gone into making me an accomplice in their sins against Jerri, their vindictive attempts to punish and lasso me back into their dysfunctional world, their slanderous propaganda about me to the family, set all that aside and be a good daughter to my dying Dad. Whatever that means.

My friends have counseled me to imagine how I will feel after his death. To do what I need to do in order not to have any regrets. Honestly, I don’t even know how to process that. It’s almost impossible to explain to someone who has an actual relationship with a father who participates in their life the enormity of the dysfunction that is ours and how it so skews the normal, expected human response that even the laws of physics seem not to apply.

Will I regret not having spent time with him over the past 6 years? The truth is even if this rift didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have spent time with him. Whenever I was with family, I had to spend all my time with Mom or else she would pout, cry, get jealous, get angry, get moody, and generally become unbearable. Perhaps in Dad’s mind, keeping Mom happy was equivalent to spending time with him. I can tell you, in my mind, it is not.

Will I regret not talking with him? The truth is even when we’re communicating, we’re not actually talking. He talks to Mom and she tells me. When I heard of Dad’s diagnosis, I texted him (don’t judge, it was the best I could muster under the circumstances) that I was very sad to hear it and even sadder he hadn’t told me himself. He did not respond. He did not text back. He simply showed the text to Mom according to Jerri. In her email, Mom wrote, “Your Dad and I have been married 53 years this April and your attitude toward me has hurt him as much as me.” Really? I guess I’ll just have to take her word for it. As I have my entire life.

When I’ve tried to force the issue and talk to Dad directly, it has not gone well. The last real conversation we had was about their decision not to allow Jerri to stay at their house a few days after her release from the hospital following her colostomy. Her surgeon did not want her to be alone given the possibility of complications such as a clot. He asked my parents if she could stay with them for 2-3 days and they said no. She had no one else to stay with in town. Jerri called, crying hysterically, “I just want to go home. I’ve been here for 2 weeks and I just want to go home. They won’t let me leave unless someone commits to staying with me. And Mom and Dad won’t do it. They say I can’t stay with them.” She was living about 100 miles from me at the time but only about 7 miles from our parents. I called Dad and challenged him. He said, “It was a family decision.” I know it was not. Left up to Dad, he would have said yes. He went along with Mom because if he hadn’t, she would have made his life miserable. I said, “I can’t believe you won’t take care of your own daughter. For 2 days, Dad. Two measly days!” He said nothing. “Don’t you even care what happens to her? The doctor doesn’t want her alone because if something went wrong, she could die!” He said nothing. “Don’t you know that one day you will have to give an account for your actions to God?” He said nothing. “Fine. Don’t you worry about Jerri then. I’ll take care of Jerri.” He said, “Are you finished?” and hung up.

You may think me heartless. I am not. I am deeply saddened that Dad is now at the end of this life. But I don’t believe death is the ultimate end, just the opposite, I believe it is the ultimate beginning.

When I think about regrets, I think mostly of things out of my control. Like Dad’s seeming inability to have a relationship with me that doesn’t go through Mom. There are some things I’d like to say to him but I can’t decide which I will regret more: saying them or leaving them unsaid.

So this is how 2013 begins. Taking into consideration the family drama and the fact that right before Christmas I fell over one of our dogs while running and slid on the asphalt on my face, you’ll understand why its been a few weeks since you’ve heard from me.


9 Comments on “So This is 2013 . . .”

  1. Terri, I am so sorry to hear about your dad. And very sorry to hear that his medication situation is exacerbating your own anger and heartache. I come from a very dysfunctional family, have done the counseling, and repeated the mantra that I have to maintain relationships on my terms – and change the way I interact, for my own soul-healing and peace. I did change my interaction with one key family member, and after some time, she actually changed her interaction as well, and now we’re on terms I think both of us can live with. Do I think about all the bad things that happened long ago, and not so long ago? Absolutely. Do I let it drown me in what I think of as “negative vibes.” No. I totally agree that you are going to have to do what feels right to you – what that little voice inside you says is best for Terri.

    • Lynne, thanks for the empathy. On a positive note, my Dad emailed today to say he is having surgery tomorrow. I knew about the surgery because Jerri had told me but since my parents hadn’t informed me directly, I planned to stick to my guns and not say anything. So I’m happy my Dad listened and like your family member, modified the way he typically interacts with me. It feels like a very positive step. Your story coupled with Dad’s outreach gives me hope.

  2. Cathy Alford says:

    I was checking back on this blog because I keep thinking about it. Really, I do. I thought I wrote a response, but don’t see it on here. So, one of two things happened – I didn’t actually click to post it or you got mad at me and deleted it. 🙂 Either way, the one thing that keeps coming to mind for me is the notion of expecting someone (or a group of people) to change when the expectation won’t make them change. (I know this personally) Sometimes it is only our expectation of hoping they will be the person we need or hope for that really has to change.

    I’m in the process of this right now with my mother and brother. They don’t talk to each other. They have basically severed almost all communication with each other and I am caught in the middle. I have my own challenges with past judgement and / or hurt within the family so I’m not willing to be the facilitator any longer. I do see my brother making small attempts, but I fear it is too late for my 83 year-old mother to forgive. And he really doesn’t understand why she is so hurt. I do understand why she is hurt. I really do. I’ve talked to them both about trying to let the past be the past and at least make the future better than the past. We aren’t talking about clinical conditions here that prevents letting it go – just hurt that stays stirred up from a bitter root.

    The last conversation with my mother made it clear she sees any attempt on my part to reconcile the two of them as an accusation that she doesn’t have the “right” to be hurt. My response in my head and heart? WHATEVER!!!! I’m so sick of it that I now have refused to be in the middle. I’m just not going to do it anymore. Whatever will be will be. God knows I’ve tried to help them both forgive and move forward even if they can’t forget. So, I will try and have a relationship with each of them and accept they will never have one with each other. One day, there will be a very sad moment when I realize I am saying goodbye to the only two blood relatives I have from childhood and I wasn’t able to celebrate that relation.

    • My dear friend Cathy, you know i would never delete a comment from you. You have free license to be as cheeky as you like. Only know I am likely to show my own cheek in return;-)

      I know how you have tried with your Mom and brother. You amaze me. You are a great role model. Seriously. I wish I was made up of the same stuff as you.

      You’ve actually zoned in on my issue with entering back into a relationship with my parents. While I’d like them to change, I don’t have an expectation that they will because I don’t actually believe they can. Mom wants everything to go back to the way it was. That’s no longer possible because I have changed. I am no longer the daughter who takes everything she says at face value. My eyes have been opened. I realize now she revises history so that it always reflects positively on her and if that requires directing blame onto someone else, so be it. Before, I would listen, sympathize, take her side even if deep down I believed she was at least partially at fault. I would placate her, do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. This is actually how she raised me. To always be attentive to everyone else’s needs and never have any of my own. I can never go back to that.

      Once she realizes the old me is gone, she will have no use for the new me. She will bring on all manner of psychological weaponry to try and force me to change back. That’s never going to happen. So you have two very stubborn people at a stand-off.

      Dad is so deep in the dysfunction, he doesn’t have the ability to even realize how abnormal their communication and way of relating actually is. He would need to be separated from her for probably years before his head would clear enough for him to see it. It’s like some weird version of Stockholm syndrome.

      The thought of going back in, standing my ground, being true to myself, holding fast to having a relationship but only on my terms is not appealing. I already have enough stress in my life. It just feels way to exhausting and I can’t even figure out what would be in it for me. Knowing that I had “done the right thing”? Please. I am so sick of being the mature one.

      • Cathy Alford says:

        I so completely hear you, my “cheeky” (I love this about you) friend. I don’t know that I would be doing or feeling anything differently than you are.

        I need to call my mother. It’s been two weeks and I feel guilty that I haven’t “reached out to her.” While having coffee this morning accompanied by my guilt, I wondered, “Hummmm, why doesn’t she call me? It’s been two weeks since she spoke to me, as well. Is there something wrong with her phone?” Nope. I can’t even remember the last time she called me. I think I stopped expecting her to so long ago that it doesn’t even seem believable that she would call to say, “Hi! How’s your day?” or “What’s new with you?” or “What is exciting in your work?” or “Hey, I know you started teaching your class again this semester. How’s is that going? Are you having fun?” or, how about, “You know, I’m really proud of you.” Or, “I saw you said something about _______ on your Facebook page. Tell me more about that.” OK. I need to get back to work. This is craziness!!!! Love you much and look forward to our time together very soon!!!

      • I hear you, Cathy. You long for your Mom to be the one to initiate, to let you know you matter. Well, you matter to me, girlfriend! I can NOT wait until April.

  3. Rose says:

    My condolences on all accounts. You asked for an objective viewpoint; I’ll do my best, though I fear all I can do is let you know you’re certainly not alone with what you’ve clearly validated.

    I’m experiencing the same with my family and have been for a few years; this lack of communication unless I initiate it, and even then communication is sorely lacking… in quality and quantity. I’m still not sure why and I’ve asked. I receive no answers.

    I’ve finally given up initiating contact with everyone but two members of my family; my mother and my sister. However, even my sister will not speak to me, nor will she write, text, etc, and I honestly have no answers as to why. I now only communicate with her via text or email, and the oh so rare voice mail (because she refuses to answer her phone when I call) only on special occasions such as holidays and her birthday.

    As for the rest of my family (except my mother), I’ve stopped trying. It was painful to finally leave them behind, but I know I’ve not done anything to deserve this one way street communication thing; this feeling of being kicked to the curb for no reason. I’m not a criminal, I’m not a drug addict, I’ve never even been arrested. I’ve made mistakes, but who hasn’t? I’m human, as are we all. I’m also a woman who has accomplished some of the most amazing achievements within my family with the awards, magazine covers, etc, to prove it. But they don’t know, and don’t seem to want to know.

    I’m at a complete loss for their behavior. I truly am… even after years of therapy which includes some serious soul searching about them, me, and this issue.

    What I’ve concluded is that it isn’t me. It’s them. As I look back on my family, my life, and my Self, I realize that only one person within my family cared enough to remain in contact on a regular basis; only one person understood that relationships are something we maintain … they are work … all individuals involved must CARE enough to initiate contact … relationships are not a one way street. That individual was my grandmother. Since her passing, my family has lost their grip on what “Family” means.

    I’ve realized I’m not the dysfunctional one in this bunch. In fact, I’m most likely the sanest among this group.

    What I find most sad is that I now know, after being off line for nearly a week due to illness, that if anything happened to me, none of them would have a clue. They would find out second or third hand from police, a hospital, or my therapist after I didn’t show up for a scheduled appointment. And once the parental and sibling units finally went through my things, they’d discover what I know: they missed out on knowing an incredible person.

    It isn’t my loss, it’s theirs.

    It is incredibly sad, very hard, but it is also a reality I must accept because I refuse to continue attempting to interact with toxic, negative people who insist on dreaming up BS which simply isn’t true… and this is the crux of their lack of contact with me… their lack of desire to listen to what actually “Is” vs. what they want to believe so their rose colored bubble doesn’t burst.

    Sorry for my long comment, but this is what I see happening to you as well; they have created some imaginary “slight” by you to suit their warped perception; to keep the status quo in play. You can’t change it because you can’t change them or their perceptions. It sucks; oh, does it suck!

    But all we can do is accept it and move on.

    My best to you!


    Trophy Daughter turned Scapegoat

    • Rose, I’m sure I’ve said this before, you are such a kindred spirit. You totally get me in a way that many can’t. That both warms my heart and makes me tremendously sad. Because I know the only way that’s possible is for you to have suffered in similar ways. If you were standing right here, I would give you a great big bear hug. You are so obviously an amazing person. Bright, caring, creative, a great writer and communicator, compassionate and extremely wise. Your family may have totally missed out on you but I feel so privileged that you have shared (and hopefully will continue to share) yourself with me and everyone else who stops by. What I also find amazing is how you seem to have moved past the anger – something that I continuously struggle with. How in the world have you done that?

      • Rose says:

        Hi Terri, my apologies for a late reply. I’ve been off line in hibernation mode for awhile. And warning; another long comment ahead. 😉

        You know, I think the only people who can truly relate and empathize are those who have dealt with this, and other similar issues related to what you blog about here, or are currently dealing with these issues… and I’m discovering there are many of us around, unfortunately (which actually helps me since I no longer feel so alone). It really *is* sad.

        The anger… wow, isn’t that a whopper? It wasn’t until recently that I understood how truly angry I really was; probably within the past 6 to 8 months. I’ve known for decades that I had anger issues but I didn’t begin to understand that my anger related to these family issues until a few years ago. And as the family stuff became worse, my anger grew worse. I stuffed it, like I normally do, but it reached a point where I began to understand that stuffing this anger towards my family for treating me so poorly, especially without justification, was hurting me greatly and wasn’t doing anything to them. They don’t care, so being angry at them had no effect; and they really had no idea how angry I was.

        I’ve worked with my anger for decades in various ways. It can be difficult to keep it under control when around someone who pokes, prods, pushes your buttons, etc, and I had a tendency to choose men, and occasionally friends, who simply repeated abusive patterns; who enjoyed pushing buttons. I didn’t have any boundaries and didn’t know how to set them and keep them firm. I’ve been in therapy off and on, here and there, but since working with one particular therapist who has been my saving Grace, I started to realize my anger had more to do with me and how the way my family was treating me made me feel, so I looked very hard at that. I already knew it wasn’t justified so why was I so angry?

        I was angry because I’m the type of person who cares what others think of me. That’s the bottom line. But why do I care what others think of me? Shouldn’t I care more about myself than they do? If I’m the one who knows the truth of my life and they don’t, then why does what they think matter, especially when I know their thoughts, opinions, assumptions, and judgments are based on little to no accurate information gleaned directly from me, but rather a bunch of inaccurate BS and assumptions passed around through their little grape vine? Does that really make sense? It certainly didn’t feel right.

        So, what I did was pull out all the stuff I’d saved over the years; all the awards I’d earned while serving in the military, my music awards from high school, my photography awards and magazines in which I’d been published, trophies, re-read my blogs which had been awarded various things, the involvement with The Invisible War and the TV and newspaper interviews which went along with it (it is now nominated for an Oscar), every little thing I’d ever done… and there is *so* much!

        That’s when I realized that they really do not know me. They don’t know what I’ve accomplished. They don’t know what I’ve been through. They don’t know what I’ve experienced. And if they honestly want to believe I’m some loser who won’t take responsibility for mistakes I’ve made and learn from them, then they’re the ones who have their heads in the sand because there is no way anyone can come as far as I have unless they take responsibility for their own lives, including the rotten parts of it.

        I don’t blame them. I stopped blaming them years ago. I’ve worked to have a good relationship with various members of my family for so long, but due to the work I did recently, I realized they’re the ones who are stopping any mutually satisfying relationship from continuing.

        That eased my mind; the fact that it isn’t me… because for most of my life I’ve felt like it’s been my fault. Everything has always been my fault, I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough, etc. You know how that goes, I’m sure. But now I know that simply isn’t true, and I also know I cannot change others. I can only control myself, my own actions and reactions. Therefore, any attempts on my part to shift their thinking of me is a complete waste of my time and energy; time and energy I could definitely use to continue my own healing.

        I love my family, but I’m no longer wasting my time attempting to “prove” myself to them. It’s simply not worth it. Once I went through this process, the anger began to subside. I still feel the anger on occasion, but it’s not as strong and it doesn’t last as long as it used to. It’s a process, and a very long one, but it is definitely worth it. In the mean time, since I’ve let go of most of that anger, I disconnected from them. I no longer worry about them and what they may be thinking or saying. This freed up more energy and time for me to share with my mother who has been very supportive and that relationship continues to grow stronger, which is really cool. She may not have been there when I was a kid, but she’s here now and is making up for lost time.

        The rest have blinders on. I no longer do so I can see others more clearly. My boundaries are in place, they are firm, and this has helped tremendously. I’ve been blessed with a great therapist to help me get where I am now. I still have my bad days, I won’t lie, but they are fewer. I’m saddened by the thought I may lose my father or one of my aunts before I have an opportunity to tell them everything I really want to share with them, but I feel comforted in knowing that I tried hard to make it right; they made their decisions on this.

        So, as I said, it’s their loss. It’s time for me to move on.

        FWIW, I am the one who feels privileged to know you; to read what you share so openly here. Whether you know it or not, you help me, and I’m sure many others, with your honesty and insights.

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