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April 1, 2015: We are Still Family

I often think about Delamore Schwartz’s short story “In Dreams begin Responsibilities.” The narrator in this short story is in a movie theatre – he looks up at the screen and sees a couple walking hand-in-hand down the beach. They’re his parents. They’re clearly in love. The narrator, their now 21 year old child, stands up and yells “don’t!” meaning don’t get married. This is because he knows what’s to come – that is that their lives together are not going to be what both envision.

I thought about the above scenario yesterday, as my sister Eleanor and I had a heated discussion about family matters. I specifically thought that if 60

years ago, my parents knew what was to come, they would have been aghast.

Then, neither of my parents knew that my mother was going to give birth to three children, one of whom would be severely retarded. She didn’t know that when Matthew was two, that my father was going to insist that he be institutionalized. Neither knew that their marriage would subsequently fall apart. Neither knew that after they’d end up in court numerous times, alimony and child support being their reasons for being there. Neither knew that my father would eventually remarry and move to New Hampshire. Nor did either know that my mother would end up moving from their lake home into the city, and thus begin her new life as a catholic school teacher and single parent. Neither knew that my mother would also become a heavy smoker and drinker.

Neither knew that my mother would, over time, become increasingly more reliant upon her youngest daughter, this after her making a cross-country move to Portland, Oregon where youngest daughter lived. And neither knew that in time the youngest daughter would be the one who’d near single handedly have to move her parent into an assisted living home.

Both parents would have been relieved to learn that both daughters would go on and get college degrees and end up living respectable lives, “respectable” being not deadbeats. They’d have been pleased to know that their younger daughter became an elementary school teacher, and their older daughter became a writer. As one would say to the other in watching the script before them unfold, “well, it looks like we did something right!”

Ahh, but the end results of both parent’s inability to see eye-to-eye on most things has, in the past few days, been making itself apparent. Younger sister is now dealing with the duress that goes hand-in-hand in dealing with an elderly parent who will die in the very near future. Younger sister has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Older sister, who is at the distance, is now taking the brunt of her younger sister’s ire.

I’d like to give Eleanor a much needed assist. But I can’t, because as I’ve been told, a visit at this time would be an inconvenience to her. Convenient for me, but not for younger sister or my mother.

What to do? Yesterday, as younger sister told me about my familial failings, I breathed deeply and remained silent. I did not add any fuel to the fire. Rather, I just stood, looking out at the birch trees in the front yard. After, I felt good about this. All my yoga training came into play. I didn’t say anything I’d live to regret, and yes, this was the right thing to do.

The important thing here is not how either of us handled the situation, but rather, it was the realization (for me) that this is the end result of our parent’s being unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions. We now need to move beyond the negative and (at least) make our relationships with one another more positive.

If I could go back in time and tell my parent’s “don’t do it!” I would. This isn’t possible. All I can now do is continue to observe, reflect, and hope that in time my sister and I will again be on good terms.

Next: 85. 4/2/15: The Writing Life: Boom

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