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Sunday, March 28, 2004
It was my father who spoke to my brother. Conversation with my mother is very difficult, and since the stroke she is very hard to understand. When she concentrates and speaks slowly, you can get what she is saying, but if she is a little tired or emotional, it becomes next to impossible. She is tired much of the time and almost always very emotional.
My dad said he very much wants my brother and I to visit, especially me. It's not that they don't want to see my brother, but his circumstances are such that they are less demanding of him. It's me they want to see and they don't understand how I can refuse their request.
The reason my father thinks I am not jumping on a plane is because I don't want to see how sick he is right now. The last time I saw him, nearly two years ago, he was a very fit and healthy 80-year-old who looked much younger than his age. Two years later, ravaged by cancer, worn-out from being my mother's sole care-provider, I am sure he looks terrible, like he is one hundred and ten years old. But that's not why I am not going.
I would dearly love to see him, and my mother, but I'm not going because I know I couldn’t handle saying goodbye to him for the last time. I'm not going because I can't bear to see my mother, knowing what awaits her upon my father's death, a lonely, sad existence in a nursing home.
My brother tried to explain this to my father, and to an extent it sounds like my father understood. Maybe he got the the part about me not wanting to see him for the last time.
My family has a history of melodrama, every visit back to see them since I moved to London has been punctuated by an over-wrought and tearful good bye, each more intense than the last, all because of the possibility that it would be the last time I'd see them alive. A visit now would mean it is more than just a possibility, it undeniably would be the last time I would ever see my father.
I can't handle it. Sure, I'm weak, I am a coward. I'm not denying that. I've always gone for the easy option, whenever possible. I've disappointed them before, on many occasions, this is really not that new.
I do want to see them, and if I thought I could deal with it, I would be on a plane right now, but I can't. My parents are having more trouble accepting this than I am. That shouldn't surprise me, they have never handled not getting their own way very well.
What's a hippy to do? I don't think I am going to cave in, I really don't see myself going anytime soon. I'd like to think that after my dad is gone, I would go visit my mother, but the thought of seeing her in a nursing home is even worse. What a fucking wimp I am. What a total cunt I’ve turned out to be.
I can try to justify this anyway I want, wrap it up in all sorts of reasons and excuses, but it doesn't change the fact that I am not able (or perhaps willing) to do this one small thing to make my parents happy. But would it really make them happy?
My brother, who is pretty good at judging these situations, thinks my father has a secret agenda. Once I am there, he reckons, my dad will turn up the pressure to attempt to get me to move to the states, to care for my mother. This could never happen, but my dad could try.
There are so many reasons why I don't want to move back, why it’s not practical, why it could never happen. I went through this two years ago, when my mother had her stroke, I gave it serious consideration, and it was just not plausible.
If I am having this much trouble finding a new job in London, where I have worked steadily for the last 13 years, where I have contacts all over the industry, how impossible would it be to get something decent in the states. If the purpose of me moving back were to help out my parents, then I would need something as close to them as possible, which would limit my search and what I could do. If it were a fulltime job, as most are in the states, what time would I have left to be of any help? I can't take my mother to the toilet if I am working in an office 75 miles away. It was just not feasible.
My parents are not totally alone, they have a live-in helper, a middle-aged woman from Georgia (not the one in the US, the one with Tblisi as it's capital). She doesn't speak much English, but she seems to really care about them. Even if I was there, I could not do what she does for them.
They also have my three older half-siblings. I am not in contact with any of them, and haven't been for a very long time, but they are around. My father was married once before, which is where these three come from.
They are all significantly older than my younger brother and me, we were never really close. Actually, that is a half-truth, we were close at one point when I was a child, but they did there best to sabotage that.
My younger brother says that they hated us when we were in the womb and there is more truth to that statement than I ever realised. I think they were always jealous and resentful of us because we were raised by our father. Growing up, they only saw him on weekends.
Also, my father was not very wealthy when they were children, by the time my brother and I were on the scene, he was much better off financially and we had many material possessions. As children, they did too, but their memory of my father's generosity seems to be failing them. We all got cars when we were old enough to drive and the chance for a higher education. He's helped all of us out with housing and accommodation at one point or another, whether it was letting us live under his roof, co-signing a tenants agreement or even loaning us money for a down payment on a home.
They had no real reason to resent us like they did, my father did his best to treat us all equally. Perhaps I say that because I know I was his favourite. The others know that too, but I was the first kid he had that he actually raised.
My father fought in Europe during World War II, he was away from his oldest son for several years when he was young. When he returned from the war, he had the other two with his first wife and then left while they were still quite young. I was the first one for him to care for from birth till I moved out at the age of nineteen. I think that is a big factor in him choosing me as the favourite.
It also makes it harder not going, knowing that he wants to see me, possibly the most.
Anyway, the other three are all much closer geographically than I am. My middle-half-brother lives 5 minutes drive away. I haven't spoken to him in nearly 18 months, I did make the effort though.
This brother is the one I was closest to the longest, he lived with us from the age of 18 until he got married, at 24 I think. I could waste pages on telling you about him, but I don't feel like it today, I'll just stick to how he relates to this story.
I saw him a few times while was on my last visit and made an effort to get to know him a bit again. He is actually fairly close to my mother, who he calls "mom", and I think that he may very well care about her, but still sides with his real brother and sister over all of us.
When I phoned him 18 months ago, all he could do is tell me how hard he found visiting my parents. Remember that my father was not ill at this point, just my mother. He said that he had to force himself to visit about once a month and barely stayed an hour. I can’t imagine he finds it any easier now. He’s in his 50s.
I know what you are thinking, I'm one to talk and criticize him, while I'm sitting on my ass in London. At least I'm honest about it. That counts for something, doesn't it?
He’s now the on in charge of their wills and has power of attorney on their bank accounts and control of other matters financial. The thought of him having any say over my mother terrifies me, but it’s out of my hands. He will steal them blind.
It could have been worse, my oldest half-brother, the king of evil shits, was down to do it until recently, but my father has admitted finally that he was a bad choice. He openly despises my mother. My father chalked it up to distance, as the oldest one lives about 70 miles away. I don't care what the excuse is, as long as its not him. The middle-half brother is very much the lesser of two evils, he'll steal, but he won't be vindictively cruel to my mother when given the chance. At least I hope he won't.
Before the oldest one, their executor was a cousin of mine on my mother’s side of the family and his wife. They were a good choice in my book as they are fairly well off, have no real emotional involvement in my family and would have executed my parents’ wills exactly as written. My cousin’s mother, my aunt heard about this arrangement and blew a gasket. Cue another large family rift and my cousin was no longer nominated to this role.
Before all of them, it was I, your friend and narrator, the northlondonhippy, who was going to handle their affairs. My mother’s illness, her stroke, was a test run for this and it highlighted in a big way that it was just not practical for me to do it. Three thousand miles was the main issue, but my mental state was also a factor.
I know I briefly mentioned in a previous entry that I suffered a breakdown last year, all of this contributed to it. I didn’t feel strong enough to handle everything that would need to be dealt with upon my parents passing. When I told my father that I couldn’t function in this role, I tried to explain my reasoning, but he didn’t get it. He just felt let down and disappointed.
I'm good at disappointing people, I think it comes naturally to me.
My father’s not stupid, but has fairly simple views of things, black and white are his favourite shades. He didn’t understand what I was telling him, he just saw me as weak. The word he used to describe me to my younger brother a “flake”. That set my relationship back with my dad a fair bit and I didn’t speak to him that often after that. We’ve never really talked about it since.
I tried to suggest ways of sorting this out, my first idea was to hire a lawyer to handle their estates, and take care of the admin involved in caring for my mother, after my dad died. He rejected that on the grounds that it would cost money and he was unwilling to pay a percentage out to a lawyer. It's not like he or my mother would be around to bitch about it anyway. He then told me any executor has the right to take 10%, so it wouldn’t matter who did it, they would still get something.
We settled on my cousin and it only took a few months before that plan was in pieces. I could care less about the money, not that I think any will be left. Between my mother’s future care and my half-brother nicking whatever is left, there will be nothing for me or my younger brother. We've always anticipated this.
Not because we are morbid, or actually after the cash, but because it was a frequent topic of conversation in our house when we were growing up. Yes, really. Everytime my father fell out with one of his other children, he would amend his will. It's called writing a codicil (Law. A supplement or appendix to a will.). I even know the terms.
And the game was not to cut them out completely, oh no. If you do that, they could contest it and get a fair share. What you do is you leave them a token, which demonstrates clearly your intention to not give them much. For my parents, this magic amount was one-hundred dollars.
My younger brother and I both expected that by the time our parents were near the end, we would be in the one-hundred dollar section of their wills. My brother believes this to be true today, I don't know what to think. I know I am not expecting to receive a penny from their estate, I haven't for a very long time.
And that’s fine. I have been telling my father for the last couple of years to please take me out of his will. I don’t expect anything but hassle, I don’t want to deal have to deal with any of my half-siblings. Matter of fact, for the last decade, I’ve have been encouraging my parents to spend it all enjoying themselves.
As you can see, my family is a mess. Is yours any better? Maybe it’s worse, perhaps it the same. Are all families dysfunctional? How will I know, because shit like this is best kept behind closed doors.
As I mentioned, at various times, my parents have fallen out with all three of my half-siblings, the oldest half-brother went decades without speaking to my father. Most of this has to do with the mere existence of my younger brother and myself. It really does.
My younger brother was visiting when my mother had the stroke. As she lay in a coma, and we didn't know if she would live or die, my middle-half-brother brought up the rift between my oldest half-brother and my mother to my younger brother. Older middle-half said that my mother was to blame for all the trouble. Whether or not this is true (I am old enough and clever enough to remember what happened and it isn't), this what not the time to be mentioning it.
It was bullshit of the highest order, because all my mother (and father) did was defend my right to exist, my younger brother and I were children when all this came to a head. Again, this rift is a long story for another day, but it confirmed that none of my half-siblings could ever be trusted.
Sitting here on this gray Sunday afternoon, rubbing salt into all of these old wounds, that will never heal, makes me realise even more that I just should not go for a visit. All of the problems with my family are deeply rooted in past. They should have been dealt with thirty or forty years ago, it’s too late to fix any of it now.
I've lived most of my life knowing that this time would come, that all the turbulence of the past would be brought back to the surface as my parents, mainly my father approaches the end of his life. With his death more imminent with each passing day, I find myself less able to process any of it. My brain is simply overloading.
Is it any wonder I indulge is casual drug use? Why should anyone be surprised that I like to load up on mushrooms and spliff to escape this reality. Dying parents, unemployment, stalled creativity, lack of dosh, gimme drugs, gimme drugs, gimme drugs everyday.
This hippy is feeling down, but not out. Life goes on no matter what and will do even after I'm gone.
"...All we are is dust in the wind." At least there's some wind to shake things up.