Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bad Grandmas Age Gracefully

I watched 70-something Raquel Welch on Oprah yesterday and was immediately very aware of my brillo-pad hands, my fungus feet, my chicken neck, a tummy that even a girdle can’t restrain, and a face that is now covered with what I euphemistically refer to as “huge freckles.”

The theme of the show was glamorous grandmas.

I am sure that there were millions of grandmas who, like me, watched the show and, if their husbands were watching with them (as mine was), kept up a constant stream of commentary along the lines of: “if I had a personal trainer, liposuction and a good plastic surgeon, I’d look like that too!” And: “I could have hair like that if we didn’t have to eat and pay the mortgage.” And then: “you like her makeup? Well, we’ll stop feeding the cats, and you can give up beer.”

My husband quickly told me that he loves me just the way I am. I think it was the beer thing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Blessing A Day Keeps The Darkness Away

Today is a new day. I am putting behind me the heartbreaking events of last year. It has been a long time since I have truly counted my blessings. Blessings are loved ones and feel-good things. I have so many blessings.

Some of the things that I consider blessings are simple: an e-mail from my granddaughter simply saying, “I love you, Grandma”, a telephone call from same granddaughter because she has a knock-knock joke to tell me, being alive to enjoy the very funny trials and tribulations of my eldest daughter as she is out-manoeuvred, on a regular basis, by my precocious granddaughter (that’s karma!!), my disabled grandson’s sense of humor and his huge capacity for enjoying life and his good-natured acceptance of what is.

I am going to strive to make every day a celebration of life. I am ready to, once again, marvel at the wonders of nature surrounding me – an osprey feeding her young, eagles showing their offspring how to use the air currents, the sound of grouse in the hills, the occasional yip of a coyote.

I am going to revel in the pleasures of decadent desserts and a good Shiraz. No worries, no guilt.

I am going to give thanks every day for my children, my grandchildren, my husband, my friends, my life.

The light is so bright when you leave the darkness.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bad Family

At the urging of my daughter, I have decided to try and break my writer’s block by writing about what has been crippling me for the past several months. It wasn’t the death of my former husband, nor was it the death of my father. It has been the perfidy of my brother, and the consequent destruction of our extended family. I can’t find enough adjectives to describe his duplicity, or to describe my hurt.

My brother, who is four years younger than me, has always been my hero, my protector. We did crazy things together and he was always there for me – through my first pregnancy when I wasn’t married, through the heart-wrenching breakup of my 25-year marriage, through my rebound second marriage to a not-nice man, and he was one of the few people who was delighted when I married my third, and present, husband. When our mother died, my brother and I grieved together and when our father remarried, my brother and I shared our feelings of dismay.

During the forty years of our parents’ marriage and until our father remarried, we were a close family and our parents doted on my brother and me and, subsequently, our children, their grandchildren. That changed when Dad remarried – my brother and I became somewhat estranged from our father, and our children (who by this time were young adults), though not estranged, did not have the same relationship with him as before. When our father’s wife sustained a serious brain injury after falling while drunk and was subsequently institutionalized, our relationship with our father got back on track. In the meantime, I had moved 400 miles away from my father, Cathy had moved 6000 miles away and Chrissie had moved 450 miles away, so our contact was mainly by telephone although in Cathy’s case (Cathy remained close to him) there was regular contact by telephone, e-mail and mail.

One and one-half years ago, our father moved into a managed independent living facility because he was getting too forgetful to manage on his own. My brother arranged things because he was in Vancouver and I wasn’t. During this period, my brother and sister-in-law were spending a lot of time with us because they were in the process of building a house just 14 kilometers away.

By the time my father died, last June, my brother and his wife had sold their house on the Coast and moved to our area, living in their RV until their house here was finished. When my father died, my brother and I made the funeral arrangements.

A few days before the funeral my brother came to our house. We had coffee and chatted – he seemed a little distant, but I didn’t think too much about it. Later that day, we heard squealing tires out front and the next thing my brother came storming up our driveway, sat down on the patio and said it was time I knew what was in my father’s will and I wasn’t going to be happy (my father had a very, very high net worth). By this time he was extremely agitated and confrontational. My husband and I were stunned – I had never seen my brother like that. He started by telling me that Dad had signed over all of his assets to him and I was not getting anything because my father did not want me to have anything. The proceeds from the sale of my father’s house, my father’s boat and vehicles were all his. When I told him that was not fair, he said, “too bad – everybody in this world has to look after themselves, and I am looking after me – Dad signed them over to me, that makes the proceeds of sales mine.” The more he talked, the louder he got. He was so loud that our next-door neighbors came outside to see if everything was okay. After he had finished telling me about his disposal of Dad’s assets, he proceeded to tell me I was stupid, stupid bitch, I had no backbone, I never knew what it was like to work hard because I had a “cushy” government job for twenty years (I was the director of an alcohol and drug treatment program for adolescents operated by a not-for-profit society – hardly “cushy”). The fact that I was married three times proved that I lacked good judgment and that’s why my father gave everything to him, my brother. He then moved on to my children – he said Catherine thought she was intelligent and successful, but in fact she was a stupid, lying, egocentric bitch and Chrissie was a selfish, deceitful c**t! and all their lives they had been spoiled bitches who thought they were princesses. Then he started on my grandchildren – he didn’t give a flying fuck that Zachary almost died the previous summer, and he didn’t care that Tanner is disabled and terminally ill because they were nothing to him! Every bitter phrase he used was laced with profanity; every phrase was laced with hate.

By the time he finished with my grandchildren – I was so debilitated that I just cried and begged him to stop. He stomped off and I was in shock. I could not believe that my brother, with whom I had never had a harsh word, the brother who I trusted more than anyone else in the world could, out of nowhere, attack me with such hurtful, hateful words.

Two days later, he walked into our house and said he shouldn’t have said the things he did. My husband told him he was no longer welcome in our house and to leave. I couldn’t say one word because when I saw him, the pain I felt, because of our now shattered relationship, was too much. My heart hurt.

I began to dwell, incessantly, on the things my brother had said to me. While I knew I could never forgive him for the things he said about my children and his cold-heartedness about Tanner, but I began to have doubts about who I really was. Was there some truth in the cruel things he said about me? I knew I wasn’t stupid, but did I lack backbone and good judgment? Was I flighty? Was I incapable of dealing with issues in life? Did I just carry one, blithely unaware of the rest of the world? I knew that I had been a well-respected professional who worked hard, was compassionate and caring. Was there some defect in me that my brother saw in me that no one else did, after all he had know me for over sixty years – longer than anyone else (except my father who was now dead). Did my father really think I was so stupid and fickle that I should be virtually cut off? If all of that was true, then my whole life with my family was a lie and if that was the case – then I really was as stupid as my brother said.

Shortly after my father’s funeral, I received a letter from the lawyer who was probating the estate. I was to receive 25% of the assets that were left, and my children and my grandchildren were not mentioned. My brother was named Executor (which I had known for years and had always been comfortable with because I mistakenly believed he had our collective best interests at heart). Then came the cruelest shock: my father changed his will recently– in the event of my brother’s death, my sister-in-law became executrix. If they both died, the duties passed to my nephew and then my niece. I didn’t exist, nor did my children. Neither my father nor my brother told me. This was the final blow. All of the doubts I had about who I was became fact. My father felt the same way about me and my children and grandchildren as my brother did. I was now beyond hurt, not only for me but for my children and grandchildren, particularly Catherine who had a closer relationship to her grandfather than anyone else. How could I shatter that? How could I explain that our branch of the family meant nothing? How could I tell them that he left his cleaning lady $5,000.00, but couldn’t find it in his heart to provide something that would give Tanner some joy or some comfort? That some of the heirlooms that were meant to be passed down on the maternal side of the family were given to their uncle?

Over the past eight months, as I have struggled with my feelings about what transpired, I have had many discussions with my children and it has become very clear that my brother, presumably driven by greed, influenced my father, who had become very forgetful and dependent on him, because my brother had power-of-attorney and total control. I have to believe that, because to think that my father, knowingly, could be that cruel and dismissive of the love that I and my daughters had for him would be too much to bear. If my daughters and I can’t trust the memories we have, it will change our family history forever. My brother has already destroyed the wonderful memories of him. My brother is dead to me. I don’t want the memories I have of my father to be dead also.

My husband, my friends, and my children, have said that I have to let it go – that I should ask God’s help in forgiving my brother if I am ever to find peace in my soul. I have done a lot of soul searching about that. I have had a lot of conversations with God – probably one-way, because I am not prepared to listen to what I know he would say. I have decided that I will never forgive my brother. He is now dead to me. I do not have a brother.

None of my turmoil has been about money, it was never mine to begin with and I never expected anything, except my mother’s gold chain which has been passed down to the eldest daughter for almost 200 years. My brother refuses to give it to me, to pass on to Cathy, as my mother wanted. I know my mother is spinning in her grave.

I have put a curse on my brother, not only because of his deceit, but because he kept the gold chain. My ancestry is Irish and Scottish, on the maternal side. The chain comes from my Irish great-great-great-grandmother. I have put an ancient, Irish curse on him and his family. And I have written this post.

I hope, now, that I can put this horror behind me and move on.