So This is 2013 . . .Posted: January 13, 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.
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.