Mr. Sensitive

August 4, 2010

The One With The Episode Of Friends

Severe headache, nausea, and dizziness set upon me this past weekend and I have effectively been out of action for the better part of three days now.  Jenny reckoned yesterday to be the worst I’ve felt since I quit drinking.  Not positive where she got that from, but maybe the part where I shut myself in the downstairs bathroom for an hour-and-a-half because it’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have a window.  Happily, yesterday morning seems to have been the peak of the physical weakness; I felt significantly better by the end of the day and am better still this morning.  Some of it could be owing to slight fiddling with blood pressure medication my doctors are in the process of doing, but I doubt that’s the problem.  Sometimes the foundation moves and it doesn’t matter where you put the furniture.

I keep the visible, conscious levels of my mind rigorously and deliberately well-ordered.  I’ve always done this; it’s what has allowed me to pile up the immediate and intermediate accomplishments throughout my life without regard to what purpose any of it does or does not serve long-term. So it was that academically and professionally I have been all-everything with flying colors no matter what and/or why.  This is not a strategically sound approach.  It goes against human nature to be able to win and to conquer and yet decline to do so, but if you aren’t strategically disciplined enough to decline you can find that you’re administering the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights for fifty years or you’re a Senior VP at the company you only got a job with because you couldn’t move until your wife finished grad school ten years ago.  (One of those is me and the other one is Israel, in case you didn’t get that.)  So the tendency is to win persistently and indiscriminately and stay at least one step ahead of the implications.  But to quote Bobby again, all the while the slime was under the building.  And even though I keep moving, I’m not totally clueless.  I know that the foundation is shifting, but I figure there’s not so much I can do about it and I’m pretty good at ignoring it and keeping my eyes up.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that even if I have got a solid handle on what’s in front of me at any given time, I may or may not have come to terms with the tectonics of my situation.  Thus the context sometimes changes around me while I’m not paying attention—I look off in the distance and instead of Pangaea, there’s the Atlantic Ocean.  That’s what happened this week.

I finished up Operation Mortal Coil—all my mother’s things have now gone wherever they’re going.  All the rooms in my house that were full of boxes and furniture are now empty again.  So, yay, right?  Two-and-a-half intense months of learning things I didn’t want to know and seeing things I didn’t want to see, and it’s finally over.  It’s a win, a clear win.  I had a duty to perform and I did it.  My mother is gone.  But it seems that something shifted while I was sorting duplicate Kenny Chesney CDs.  I was starting to feel like crap Saturday, and even worse on Sunday, and then Monday night we were watching the episode of Friends where Phoebe thinks her mom has been reincarnated as a cat and she’s carrying it around and talking to it, and that—that!—was apparently too much.  Just like that I went from my mother is gone to Mom is gone, which is a whole different thing, and not so good for the composure.

I want to be clear about something: I don’t have any regrets about what I did or didn’t do at the end of Mom’s life.  I know some of my siblings do have regrets, wishing they had been here and done something different, or even wishing I had done something different since I was here.  I don’t think they should regret anything but that’s for them to decide.  The way I see it is Mom was always speeding and never steering.  She wouldn’t slow down and she wouldn’t ask for guidance when she didn’t know where to go.  She wrecked again and again, and if you live your life that way, eventually you’re going to smash it all up bad enough that you don’t get to walk away.  I didn’t want her to leave Pulaski, where she had friends and community and a support system.  I didn’t want her to marry that energy-sucking creature and move to Mississippi.  I didn’t want her to sit around all day in his house in Mississippi, or in my house, or in her rental house here, and do nothing but watch Law & Order reruns and do Sudoku, declining and dissipating instead of making any effort to live.  But I could not order her to do otherwise.  Katie and I intervened as much as we could given the power and authority we had.  Katie, especially, went above and beyond for Mom.  In the end, it’s for what Katie had to do and see that I feel truly sorry.  And me?  Well, my Mom didn’t like me, folks.  She said as much to Katie, and she made it clear to me many times over many years.  I was not the simpering little boy she wanted, and I’m glad of it because of what that would mean for me and my wife and children, but there it is.  That didn’t erase my obligation to her as her eldest son, but it did define and limit the way we could interact.  I would help her but I wouldn’t enable her, and she resented me.  I see the way Katie is with her parents, the sane, adult relationships, friendships, they have, and the contrast could not be more striking to me.  Katie gave Mom as much advice as she could, and Katie and I worked hard together to craft that advice for maximum effect, all the while knowing she’d disregard most of it.  But Mom would not take advice directly from me, not ever.  I didn’t have the ability to persuade her to change.  To have taken more aggressive action would have required taking away her ability to make day-to-day decisions, and I couldn’t have done that without her consent or, more likely, a court declaring her incompetent and bypassing her (clearly negligent) husband to give me legal authority.  I didn’t mean for her to die, not at all, and certainly not like she did.  But I didn’t mean for her to do about 90 percent of what she did in the 16-plus years since Dad died.  I’m not feeling my best right now, but even I’m not crazy enough to feel guilty because I didn’t use power I didn’t have.

I don’t want it to hurt that my Mom is gone, but it’s not up to me.  It took me two-and-half months and Phoebe’s stupid cat to realize that and I’d have ignored it forever if I could have.  Maybe I got that from her.



  1. At least you seem pretty sure that your mom isn’t in Marisa or Lulu. It is a good thing that we’re done with all the stuff that just had to be done, and I know it is really good for you to be dealing with all these feelings now, even though it’s certainly not easy. Love you.

    Comment by Katie — August 4, 2010 @ 10:43 | Reply

  2. It helps me to read this, because I do feel regret, but you are right about all of it. You are a beautiful person.

    Comment by Charlotte — August 4, 2010 @ 13:11 | Reply

    • I know you do. You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, sis. It worked with me, but Mom wasn’t me. I needed help, but I had something I wanted to be and she just didn’t. I hope you won’t always feel like you should have done something different. We all tried really hard. I’d say Mom wouldn’t want us to feel guilty, but of course she would. Ugh.

      Comment by lbej — August 4, 2010 @ 14:48 | Reply

  3. It helped me to read this, too. I keep stumbling up against enormous feelings inside me, and I guess I’m waiting for my own version of Phoebe’s cat to allow me to process any of them. It’s strange to think that Mom is gone; I have these dislocated moments when it feels unreal and almost ridiculous.

    Anyway, I am grateful that you and Katie were with her through the end of it. She may not have been capable of stopping the course she was on, but I know that she loved your girls. And it would have been worse for her, in the end, to have been anywhere else.

    I wish I could still stop by and have dinner with you and talk.

    Comment by Marcus — August 5, 2010 @ 18:16 | Reply

  4. The sadness of the whole thing didn’t drop in for me until I had a strange dream about a very desperate version of our mother. And it clarified a lot of how I perceived her and helped me recognize that a lot of my sadness was on her behalf – you know, just how pathetic and broken she was. So I had a big ol’ teary disaster time and thought that was going to be the worst of it for a while.
    Funny thing happened last night, though. While unpacking Nicole found the hunting hat Dad wore when he died and that I then wore for the next 9 months, and I thought for a minute about how intense a memento that is to cart around. So I went into my room and cried about Dad for the first time in ages, and it promptly muddied itself into pain about Mom’s death.
    You’re right about the regret thing, which I definitely swam in for a while after Mom died – wishing I’d been more selflessly invested in her happiness. But I think that by and large it’s transformed into a valuable lesson instead of some useless guilt.
    Thanks for sorting through her effects and closing shop down there. And thanks for writing about your feelings so openly on this blog. You’re a serious champion.

    Comment by Justin — August 7, 2010 @ 13:05 | Reply

    • I’m like the field marshal of feelings.

      Comment by lbej — August 7, 2010 @ 13:31 | Reply

    • Very curious how that all works, what we remember and when. I don’t get it. I had this sense the other day, though, that some things I had forgotten will be coming back when my son is born.
      Hey, do you think you’re losing your hair because you wore that hat right after Dad and you got baldness on you? Do you also think that it’s weird that Marcus has the most solid hairline out of the three of us and he shaves his head? My hair is shaped like a little sailor hat these days so I probably shouldn’t talk.

      Comment by lbej — August 7, 2010 @ 13:42 | Reply

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