I Just Need To Write…

It’s been a weird few weeks in a lot of ways, and I’ve been exhausted.  Today when I woke up, I got the message from one of my cousins that her dad (my late mother’s brother) had passed away.  He’d been sick for a relatively short period of time (well, that we know of- he hadn’t been to a doctor in almost 60 years), and was diagnosed with end stage esophageal cancer.  He was getting it treated, and long story short, they found him very early this morning just before his heart stopped.

I have so many emotions going through my mind.  First, I feel for my cousins, their spouses, and assorted grandkids and great-grandkids.  Their dad had never been easy to deal with, but he was the only dad/in-law/grandfather on that side that they’d known.  It’s a loss, regardless of how close they’d been, or what he’d been like to them over the years.  There is no chance for  additional healing at this point, with him directly.  They can only fish through their own memories and pain, and figure out how to remember him over the long run.  It might be easier to deal with anger now, but there will still be some degree of the type of pain that comes from a little kid who lost their daddy- even if it comes out sideways. The only dad they knew is gone.

I feel sad for my uncle, that he created his world in the way that he did.  He and my mom were siblings.  My mom also had multiple sites of cancer, and while she beat it, the radiation to her brain left her demented for the last 10 years of her life.  She wasn’t mean or unkind (most of the time), but before her cancer, when I was a kid, she  was hard to ‘read’ – and that was very hard as a kid to figure out. I didn’t know if she liked me, and sometimes she was unkind (though I don’t think she always meant it to be that way), and it took until my 30s to figure out that it had nothing to do with me… she was wounded in some ways that I knew about, and undoubtedly in ways I had no clue about.  Their mom was orphaned at age 6, and she had her issues with attachment (that she talked to me about- not just me speculating), which didn’t help with being a mom to her four kids- though her issues were more with ‘omission’ than ‘commission’…she was afraid to lose more people, and didn’t want to get too close.  She turned 100 years old two days ago… and today she will find out that she’s outlived a second ‘child’.

It’s sad that my uncle  pushed people away by bullying them (that was when he was being kind).  And at other times, he was very generous in hosting family reunions that were no easy or inexpensive tasks.  There were a lot of us roaming, eating, and talking through a full weekend.  Sure, some of it was to show off his home (which is very nice), but he didn’t have to do it.   I ended contact with him when he lied about a conversation that was deeply hurtful, and he called me ‘human debris’, and said he was ashamed to be my uncle.  Fine.  No more relationship.  End of story; I won’t stay through that sort of thing  (and that was a drop in the bucket compared to being raised by him),  though I did e-mail him when I found out about his illness to let him know I’d be praying for him, and if he had any questions I could help with as an RN, I was available.  I’m not sure if he answered back, or someone else did, but I got a reply.   I know I can feel OK in that I reached out.  But I’m still really sad that he died.  Mostly because he left so much unfinished business with his kids and surviving siblings.  I feel so badly for them.  None of them ever did anything to warrant the way he treated them.

In general, to folks who have pushed people away by being abusive jerks, fix it before your time is up (which could be anytime, we are never guaranteed a tomorrow).  Understand that your interactions mean something, and leave lasting impressions and scars.  The world isn’t all about you, but how you either add to it, or make things worse for others.  For those who are afraid to lose someone, so you keep people at an arm’s distance, know that you also have an impact on those around you, especially if you have kids.

For those who have been hurt by someone close, especially as a kid, know that it wasn’t about you.  It was the one who caused pain who had the problem.  You may have gotten the brunt of their character defects, but it  shows that they are damaged- it would have been anyone there at the same time if it wasn’t you.  Yeah, it hurts, is maddening, and feels very personal… but for someone who is incapable of functional, healthy relationships, it’s all they can pull off in life, and that is pathetic.  I’m not saying to not feel what you feel… I’m saying it’s not about you.   I had to figure that out before I moved back to my home town to help take care of my mom.  IF I hadn’t figured that out, I’d still be living 1250 miles away (where I’d been for 17 years).  In the years I’ve been an RN (since 1985, though disabled in the last several years), I’ve seen a lot of families’ pain that really stemmed from the hurtful one not being able to give what the others needed.  There were some who were outright sociopaths, but most were situations where the damaged ones didn’t know any other ways to interact.  It was the best they could do, and/or had no clue on how they were hurting people.  Absolutely no insight about their impact on others. It was their normal.

My uncle is dead.  My cousins are having to deal with whatever ways they grieve.  My grandmother lost another child.  My surviving aunt and uncle lost a brother- another sibling.  But, I think saddest of all, the chance for reconciliation and building good memories is gone for all of them.  I’m still reeling from three very significant deaths this year in my family (on the other side), and while my relationship with this uncle was purposely estranged to not get any more of his crap, I still feel badly.  I remember him  when I was a kid, when we got together (and I’m guessing he was on his best behavior), and it was good.   His wife/my aunt (who passed away several years ago) was  a bright part of my life.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s kind of like him dying takes away more of her.

I’m rambling… just be decent to each other, and don’t let relationships erode because of ego or general apathy about how interactions can be so deeply scaring.  Reach out, and try to make things right.  Don’t be someone who others want to stay away from.  Know that at the end of the day, you didn’t do anything to hurt another person.  Especially family.  Truly be able to rest in peace whenever your time is up.

If my uncle were here, I’d say “I wish we’d had a better relationship during these last several years, but I’d never wish anything bad on you.  Nobody deserves to have a painful death, or to have to deal with cancer.  I just wish I knew what made you OK with treating people how you did.  I have a feeling I’d be more sympathetic than angry, since you and my mom came from the same family.  Regardless of anything else, you were still my uncle.” 

To my cousins, aunt, and uncle (grandma isn’t online)…. I’m SO sorry.  I’m sure his death hurts in a lot of ways.

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Honoring Abusive Parents… Does God Want Us To Throw Ourselves Under Their Toxic Bus?

I pray that God gives me wisdom especially as I write this post…

I’m very fortunate to have a dad who has my back, is fun to be around, and with whom I can talk about anything.  Having a relationship with him as an adult has been a lot of fun.    If/when he gets upset about something, he says what he says, and it’s over.  He doesn’t hold grudges, and generally forgets he was ever upset.  He doesn’t hold my emotions hostage. He doesn’t guilt me into anything.  I do often feel badly that I can’t spend more time doing things away from home, due to the dysautonomia, but he understands that I will do things when I can- and we enjoy those times.  Even when I was a kid, he never did anything that wasn’t in my best interest.  I didn’t always like discipline, but it was swift, to the point, and never left a feeling of shame.

My mom wasn’t so pleasant when I was growing up.  She wasn’t really ‘mean’, but she was broken. There were some things that were done that were most decidedly unpleasant, and if I had kids, I would not have repeated them.  But mostly she was broken.  She had some intense losses (two newborn sons, two years apart, just three years before adopting me). She was terrified of doing something wrong, and of losing me, so some of her ability to ‘attach’ or bond was damaged.  It wasn’t personal, though as a child, it felt that way.

It wasn’t until my mid 30s that I figured out that all of that was her ‘stuff’.  It wasn’t about me- even though it had a huge impact on me. Her mom was orphaned at the age of six, and had her own issues with attachment (she discussed this with me several times), and she deliberately didn’t allow for much closeness, so I wonder if my mom had any frame of reference for how to parent.  No kid comes with instructions, and not all parents have much insight into their own ‘stuff’.  I do know my mom loved me, and she did many things with and for me… but verbally, there wasn’t much clue that she liked me.   Basically, she did the best she could, with her own ‘stuff’ coloring her emotions and interactions.  I gained a lot of compassion and love for her, by understanding that whatever was going on wasn’t about me.

Being a Christian, it can be very frustrating and confusing to deal with abusive/neglectful/hurtful parents when so much is said about honoring one’s parents.  But does that include overtly abusive parents?  From what I’ve found, the answer is both yes and no…  We aren’t expected to obey demands that go against what God’s Will is for us (He doesn’t want us to be continuously damaged and tormented).  But there is a difference between our expectations as children and that of the adult child/parent relationship.   If a parent is acting within God’s expectations of a solid, loving parent, there probably isn’t an issue about honor, respect, and love.  But for the parent who isn’t able to understand that demeaning, demanding, and destroying their children’s emotions, and the relationship in general, I don’t believe things are so clear.   That abusiveness isn’t from God’s instructions on how to parent (Ephesians 6:2).

Here are links that help with Bible verses, regarding abusive parents, and adult children (remember, that these apply to the abusers as well as anyone who is a parent):

http://www.luke173ministries.org/537996

http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Abusive-Parents

http://www.gotquestions.org/honor-abusive-parents.html

Looking at the word ‘honor’, here is what Merriam-Webster has to say :

1. respect that is given to someone who is admired

2. good reputation; good quality or character as judged by other people.

3.  high moral standards of behavior

There’s nothing about throwing ourselves under the toxic family bus.

 

www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honor 

When there is a toxic relationship, we can’t control what the other person does.  We can only manage our own  responses and behaviors, and decide how honorable we want to be.   God will take care of the ultimate judgement on hurtful parents.  I don’t think we’re expected to put ourselves in harms way with abusive parents.  I do think we can protect ourselves, even via distance and refusing to participate in an abusive parents’ tirades and ongoing unrealistic demands, and outright lies.   Illness and stress are not excuses for abuse.  Even those with dementia are given boundaries.  Those with sound minds are entirely accountable.  If they have such severe reactions to something, they need a professional to help them- not unload in unhealthy ways on their family.

But what CAN we do?  We can focus on our own relationship with Christ. It’s hard to have a full-on relationship with our Lord when we are being torn down by an earthy parent.  We need to give that relationship to God.  We can forgive.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning someone’s behavior- but it is an act of obedience to God.  It’s a freeing up of mental space for more positive content. It relates to our relationship with God… much more so than with humans  (Matthew 7 is good for this). We can show compassion without being subjected to continued and repeated abuse.  Sometimes people have to be loved from a distance.  Sometimes we have to just do what we can, and let the abuser stew in their own anger.

If a parent is not showing the love of God to their own kids,  there is something wrong with the parent (intentional or otherwise).  I’m not saying they have to be perfect, that’s impossible- but (if they claim to be a Christian) they should be compassionate, loving, forgiving, not demanding, not haughty, etc (I Corinthians 13).  LOVE isn’t rude, not self-seeking, isn’t easily angered, keeps no records of wrongs, isn’t proud, is kind, and is patient…  Parents are supposed to show their children those qualities.   And adult children can demonstrate these TO an abusive parent, but still not be subjected to 24/7 abuse.  Interactions can be brief, but still show love as God describes it (sometimes less is more).  Sometimes the honorable part has to be how we interact- not how we hope they interact with us.  My mom ended up with dementia before I was able to see her as someone who needed compassion; there was no reciprocation- but that was OK; I’d fixed my own perspective when I figured out it wasn’t really about me.  Not all abusive parents fit into that category, but we can decide how we want to be viewed in how we interact… we decide OUR legacy- not that of the parent.  The parent will have to answer to God one day, as will we- and He knows our hearts.  He knows about the hurt and damage done to the tender hearts we had as kids… and He can give us strength and wisdom to do what’s right as adults.

The ones who abuse are the ones with the problem, and in my opinion, it’s more of a spiritual and unresolved emotional issues that can’t be fixed until the person has some reason to change, and make amends.  It’s not about the kids (adult or otherwise).  It causes damage in the relationship, but it’s not ‘personal’. All anyone can do in an adult child/parent relationship is show the parent some healthy boundaries,  pray for them, and  be kind without being a victim again.  Sometimes distance is needed because the situation is so toxic.  I don’t think that goes against the Bible.  I don’t think we’re supposed to be slaves or sacrifices for the  abuser.  We’re to be ambassadors for Christ- with unbroken spirits.  And I don’t think that guilt and shame are ever part of a healthy relationship.

Our ultimate responsibility is to God, and following what He wants for us (Jeremiah 29:11)…. if an earthly parent isn’t following that same concept, they are not honor-able.

 

 

The Emotionally Damaged Parent

Watching TV news, and working as an RN for years in the mental health and recovery fields, it’s so apparent why familial abuse is cyclical.  Nobody knows any better. Nobody ‘grew up’ in a normal manner and completed developmental stages. They all end up stuck, confused, and in pain.  They then traumatize any offspring they have-  sometimes very unintentionally, but leaving behind another generation of damaged adults and more confused kids.  While they do the best they can, they cause mass devastation. Others just become cruel.  I’ve seen some horrendous families.

These parents can’t see things through their child’s eyes since they never completed developmental stages themselves.  When a child enters the ‘terrible twos’, a very necessary developmental stage, the stuck parent can’t cope because they’re still functioning on an emotionally childish level themselves. So the actual toddler gets the brunt of it, and never learns how to get its own needs met, since the parent needs the kid to meet unmet needs of their own.  The child becomes the nurturer, in an incredibly dysfunctional manner.  The parent can’t identify their child’s needs since their own needs weren’t met.  And they don’t know any better.  Or that there’s even a problem  (they have no other frame of reference). And they certainly can’t fix it on their own.

The wounds continue as the children learn to live without a functional parent.  Life becomes a matter of surviving and just getting through it.  Any sources of perceived love and care (no matter how horrendous or dysfunctional) become like beacons for these kids as they grow up.  And the cycle continues, since the child ends up being used by those with an agenda, who seek them out.  The lucky ones actually have functional adults step in and help them learn what is and isn’t healthy.  Others become statistics, or abusers.  And ‘parents’.

The more dysfunction and desperation I see on the news, the more I wonder how and when people became so damaged.  I don’t think the majority of people strategically set out to screw up their kids, but they manage to do a good job of it none the less.  And I wonder who hurt them.  And so on.  I can trace some deficits (perceived or real) that  go back to the flu epidemic in 1917 or 1918.  Orphans are abandoned souls, no matter how loving their assigned parents are. They then are clueless about bonding and attachment, since being vulnerable has only meant pain and loss in their child’s view of life.  Their kids then have to learn to function with the only tools THEY have, and so on.  Nobody meant to cause pain. Nobody meant to leave  a legacy of abandonment and dysfunction…but it’s still there and very real for those who were left with the aftermath.

It’s easier for me to forgive pain caused by developmental neglect and  loss than abusive behavior with no cause, or outright cruelty.