Monday, November 27, 2006

What I Learned in Canada

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on November 18th, this year. Their actual anniversary is on the 19th. Caitlin and I were able to go out due entirely to my brother's generosity.

Thanks, Ian!

Since we're currently broke, there was no way we were going to be able to go without help. Ian stepped up and helped us out and so the odyssey began! Being grateful and embarrassed is an interesting feeling. I don't know if I'd recommend it, but it's way better than being regretful and sad. I'd have hated to have missed the party and all that occurred.

As you may know (or not), my dad has Alzheimer's disease and is fading. I believe that he's had it for decades, which would explain most of his erratic behavior over the years. I've been angry/mad/sad/disappointed/furious at my dad for years and years and have blamed it on lots of different things, but to be finally told that he has an actual disease, an actual reason to have behaved horribly for years was...a relief. Frankly, as I told my mom some time ago, I'd really rather know that he had something - some disease - rather than think that this is just how he was. How much more horrible do you think it is to think that your father is just that petty and cruel and vicious and small minded to have done the things he did? To have said the things he said? To have hurt you and your siblings over the years as he did? The anger, the threats, the paranoia all finally had an explanation.

The disease is horrible, don't get me wrong. I feel my throat close up every time I think about it. I feel like crying every time I think about him forgetting me. Hell, I'm going to cry just typing this!

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

So. Choosing not to come to my wedding 10 years ago? Still hurts. Thinking that he's hated me for years? Still hurts. Knowing there was a reason for it? Feels better. So much better.

I don't want to watch him forget everything and everyone. I don't want to think about him not remembering me, my family, Caitlin. However, since there is no miracle drug available, it is inevitable and we all have to get used to the idea and accept it. Take advantage of what time and memory is left, while he's currently on medication that slows down the disease's progression. He's a lot more mellow, now that he's on meds and that's...I don't know? Nice? Good? Easier to handle? He's very stoic, so it's hard to tell if he was happy to see us, but I have to assume he was. I was nervous, as I usually am when visiting family, but it was fine in the end. More than fine - it was a great visit. Many bridges were repaired, I think. Foundations to new relationships set in place.

I stayed at Cindy's house for the visit. She's 10 years younger than me and I've had a hard time adjusting to thinking of her as an adult. I left home to go to university when she was only 8. It took several trips to mentally revise my image of her upwards. When last I'd seen her, I revised her up to 18. That was before it really sank in that my kid sister was now a mother, like me, and clearly was no longer a kid. I had to stop thinking about her the same way. It really sank in during this last trip. Now I've revised her up to her actual age: 27. I've learned that she's become wise over the years and very forgiving. Far more forgiving than I would be in her place if I had been faced with an in-law that treated me the way that hers had treated her, but that's her story to tell. Nevertheless, Cindy taught me a lot while I was visiting.

We stayed up far too late on the night I arrived and talked about the intense family issues that we have. She's the one sibling that I've had an easy relationship with over the years. [But then, when she was little, she was my baby. I learned how to sleep with her on my chest when she was an infant, without moving a muscle, when we shared a room together. This skill served me very well with Caitlin and with my kittens. They thank you! Babies sleep better when skin to skin with a parent (at least mine did and Cindy did), so it worked out for all of us.] Cindy asked me to be on my best behavior and not strike sparks with my older sister and younger brother. She asked me to do this because this party may very well be our dad's last Hurrah. His last big party. His last chance to get together with old friends and family before he forgets.

Before the disease strips away who he is and who he was.

We talked intensely on the drive to the church, in whose basement the party was to be held, where we would meet up with the rest of the family and decorate for the party. I decided on the drive over to open up and see how it went. I didn't know what I would talk to everyone else about without managing to be obnoxious, but I was determined to try.

For Cindy. For dad. Maybe even for myself.

Now the thing to keep in mind about this party is that it was a big deal for Cindy. She planned the whole thing. She had it catered. Made the cake (with some help from mom in the end). Created the invitations (engraved, with red ink). Hired the DJ. Handled the whole thing almost entirely by herself because a) she was the one living there in Canada while the rest of us were in NYC and CO and b) mom didn't want to have to deal with the party (work, decisions, etc.) at all. Basically, Cindy threw a wedding reception for my folks and did a fantastic job. She was clearly stressed all to hell, but did great. I suspect that mom didn't want to be involved, didn't want to make any decisions (Turkey or beef?) because she didn't want to face what it meant: dad's last party. The whole thing revolves around them having been married, for better or for worse (and they've had lots of both), for 40 years. Many memories would be dredged up that would hurt for assorted reasons, I imagine.

Possibly also because mom is the one that throws the parties and cooks for all the parties and she was just tired of it and wanted someone else to handle it. I don't know for certain, since I didn't ask her directly, but that's my theory and I'm sticking with it!

At the church, while setting up for the party we met up with my brother and sister, parents and cousins. We all set the room up together. Ian played with Caitlin who warmed up to him pretty quickly. She likes people that like her back and are obvious about it. You can't be subtle about liking Caitlin and expect her to understand that you like her or even love her. If you want her to respond to you, you've got to wear your heart on your sleeve, without reservation. And you know? That's a hard way for an adult to behave sometimes. Very hard for a reserved, introverted adult to behave, but that's what it takes.

Dawn and I don't seem to know how to behave around one another. We fought a bunch as kids. There was rivalry like you wouldn't believe between the four of us. We often thought (and behaved) that we each should have been only children. It must have been miserable for our folks. So a lot of the misunderstanding between us is old. Very old. Yet hard to get past. However, this time, we both tried really really hard. I think we're on to something. I hope we are.

Dawn had lost a lot of weight since I'd last seen her and looked fantastic! I mean that, really and sincerely. She looked more confident in herself as well. It seemed like she was gathering back the confidence that I remember her having as a kid. You may not realize it, but I was the introverted and shy one (No! Really!). Dawn was the confident, outgoing extrovert. Something happened to her over the years and that seemed to change. I hope she's getting her moxy back. Everyone can use some moxy.

At one point she turned to me and told me triumphantly that she had quit smoking and had been smoke free for a month. I was thrilled for her and effused all over her. I hugged her.

And kept on hugging her.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Something else to note: we were never a demonstrative family. My hug was significant. Continuing to hold her was significant. When I let go, she turned away from me in order to stop herself from crying. Yes, I saw that.

In that very moment, I felt my the wall around my heart crumble.

Ah fuck. I'm crying.

To have such a small thing be so important! Not just to her, but to me as well. All of those years of misunderstanding. All of the pain. And for what?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I'm sorry Dawn.

I'm sorry I've been an idiot and hard to know. I'm trying.

So that was the second big thing I learned on my trip to Canada.

1. Cindy has grown up and grown very wise.
2. I love my older sister and want to heal the breach.

More later. I must go cry now.


Cindy said...

That's my Girl!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

You crack me up!

Did I write what you were expecting?

linda powers said...

Good work "woman", your personal growth is showing great rewards.

Cindy said...

Pretty much. Life is a series of lessions to be learned, don't you think?
LOL when I saw the word expecting I thought you said you wrote that I was "exspecting"! AHHHH! I almost lost my lunch!

cindy said...

it's 12 am sorry, expecting not exspecting! (duh)

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