Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Missing Ben, Missing Dad, Fighting Mom

It's been hot and humid. This is why I like coming home in the winter; cold can slow me down but some heat stops me from doing much at all. And we're told we can expect temperatures in the 40C's this season. I thought those were reserved for Arabia and Australia, no? Still we appreciate Yokohama has escaped the rain, thunder and cold/heat that's been descending elsewhere. First summer here in 19 years. Yeah... Nelson has most definitely not had the extreme weathers of the last couple of decades in comparison.

I miss Ben. A lot. And every day I wonder what the heck I'm doing here, but more on that later.

Mom's been better, in that she's come out of the daze a couple of weeks ago when Dad's bones went under the grave and she finished her part of the pension-related work. She doesn't sit at the table waiting for food to appear when she's hungry any more, and when rostered, she even cooks. Or assembles. For a couple of weeks she was active, sociable and, well, normal; she told some people in terribly indirect language what I think I can translate as her missing Dad. But then another Mom emerged; this one is negative, cynical, intrusive; everything is everybody else's fault, and, yeah, she's been hard to live with. Up to now that was Dad's and my speciality.

I noticed this about Mom during the Feb/Mar visit and told her this is not her, and she has got to regain her positive and proactive self, but the way she's at it, I don't know if this temporary or if this is now her default mode. Since she had good listeners in my sister and brother, I tried to motivate her, but we fought so much I gradually desisted, and now thanks to this heat I don't have the energy for my well-intentioned pep talk. For which Mom is thankful, no doubt. Sometimes her negativity is so that I felt physical pressure on my shoulders and neck; sometimes I know I'll do better in Nelson for both of our emotional health. It's hard to talk about this with her; we both feel our best efforts are under attack, and that I'm violating her territory, and she hasn't got the guts to tell me to leave, (after one time,) nor I to abandon her. And after I go home this next time, I honestly won't be able to afford another trip for a while even if one of us changes our minds.

And then there is always this thing where Mom says anything to family as long as she thinks it's true. I probably do the same to her.

In practical terms, I gradually gave up helping Mom in tidying the house. She wanted to get rid of practically everything right away and we fought so much but now I leave it to Mom and her twice-weekly helper, but grab anything of Dad's I want to keep or think my siblings may want. And throw away she does!! I try to stick to our roster and cook and clean the kitchen; try not to mind if she does laundry on my days, and clean the areas I mainly use, (so, the stairs and upstairs.) And do little every day in the bathrooms. And I try not to do much when she's rostered to do something. 

It's like learning to live harmoniously with a new roommate; learning to live with Ben was so much easier; living with Ben is so, so, so easy I do have a renewed appreciation for him. My honey is such a Honey!

And I appreciate the heat; we have little head space left to fight. Or talk, some days.

I miss Dad. For a while all the regrets for things I didn't/wouldn't do for/to/with him was becoming overwhelming. Mom revised her opinion of him, and blamed a lot on my immaturity; I went under a revised my view of him, and blamed myself. But then I learned that our, (three kids') view of Dad was much influenced, (tainted,) by what Mom told us, as recently as last March, and I'm sad for Dad for having gotten such a bad rap in his own home, and that perhaps where he could most be himself was with his students, not with his family.

I feel sad that Mom hones in on my immaturity and tells me to, "get over" things. On the third day after I got here, she forbade me to grieve in front of her because it was offensive when her life had been turned upside down; then she listed practical and financial difficulties. Or I should go back to Nelson and cry with Ben. I feel the most intense regret thinking about dad making jokes about Mom being just as hard, (as him,)to live with, because not only did I not show support for him, but I totally didn't buy it. None of us three did. And knowing all of us were "on Mom's side" most of the time, I even wonder if "home" was a happy place for him.

Thank goodness for the heat, I don't think too much complicated thoughts; I just miss Dad when we're eating something yummy or find something funny on the telly. But we're glad he went when he did because we would not have known how to care for him in, yes, I'll say it again, this heat.

So that's my side of the story. But just part of the story.


  1. I wanted to add that I see Mom in a flux just now, having been widowed after 57.5 years, so I'm not passing judgment on her current state. At the same time, with Dad's care out of the way, I really imagined this to be a sad but good time filled with camaraderie.

    She's always been a doer not a thinker, whereas Dad and I have been thinkers to the point of sometimes debilitating inaction. She's always been a fountain of good cheer and positivity. So, though I'm no easy company at the best of times, I really didn't expect this to be such an acrimonious period with big emotional and ego challenges every step of the way.

  2. Oh, Meg. Hugs my dear. You are both learning to live in this new world without your dad. You are both grieving the loss of the old ways and learning new things. Hard times to be sure. Be gentle with yourself. Hugs and love to you.

  3. I wish it were all so much easier for you. Your kindness to your mother, through the attitude in your words, your non-judgement, your honesty. These things will pull you through and someday help you see the life lesson in the struggle. And I know it IS a struggle. She's grieving in her own way, I guess. I hope you can be with Ben again soon. Love the way you write about him. (it's sweet)

  4. What Maureen said. I'm so sorry. Must you wait until September to go home? Are you doing more (unintended) harm (to yourself and your mom) than good, still being in Japan? Parents often put their children in the position of having to choose between mom and dad. As long as you put things right in your own heart, that's the most important thing...and it often takes a death, or a lifetime, for us to figure out where we individually stand in the matter. You're quite the trooper, Meg. But take care of yourself, please. Love and hugs.

  5. Can I vent a little here? This morning's fight was about consumerism, and throwing things away.

    Mom hasn't got a car nor the stamina to get rid of things properly, and has the local government sanction not to have to recycle but is allowed to leave trash for a weekly pickup by her front door. (Old age plus not having a "young" person live here permanently.) I get that. I get it all. But she takes advantage of the system and puts out everything, from small furnitures to bike helmets to... whatever, and I feel uncomfortable about it. But I go along because I don't even know when or where garbage is collected around here any more. And it's easy.

    But the difference in opinion is more fundamental. She came from money, and then married Dad and struggled to raise three kids for 35 years. Then Dad got a big promotion and they did well for 15 years and not too badly until Dad's pension stopped. But fundamentally, having come from money set her values; she's always been a shopaholic and a certifiable clothes horse, the latter having been handed down from her dad. She always threw things away with gusto, never recycled, and she's never been an environmentalist in terms of energy or resources, though she was into organic food early on.

    Whereas Dad and I are tightwads and spend big only on things we feel passionate about; Dad (and Mom) traveled for 25 years. (Whereas, ahem, I have to be careful because I don't have a steady income and living on one income in New Zealand is hard, as it probably is in most developed economies.)

    Mom's rampant consumerism bothered me all my life. She'd buy clothes and then give me stuff she didn't want any more, and I didn't want them but I knew if I didn't take them she'd throw them away. Giving to charity, even though we went to the same Catholic school, never enters her mind. Or she's too lazy to take steps. So I took them back to New Zealand and gave to charity. And she was proud that she didn't have "too many" stuffed away in her closet. Or shoe closet. It's like old European nobility building cottages to enjoy the "simple" life, I thought.

    So, this morning, understanding she needs to tidy this place and get ready to move, I asked her not to tell me about everything she's going to throw away because it really pains me, almost physically, what she's doing. But no, she needed to explain to me that she doesn't have access to a car not the stamina to do it "the way you like". Also, she couldn't possibly give away "worn" or "used" items, and yet complains the government is neglecting the old and look how little the pension is going to be now that Dad is gone.

    So that's the issue today. I'm avoiding her because she's going to try to explain again, but this is one of those things we're never going to see eye to eye. And she thinks I'm so unreasonable.

    I have been inconsistent, because some days the issue really bothers me, and on others I don't want to focus on our disagreements. But I never imagined her upbringing will become such a big hindrance in our relationship.


  6. I finally found a metaphor that Mom may be able to understand; her telling me what she's going to throw away is akin to a meat-eater telling a vegetarian she's had/is going to have a lovely steak. Though she's still got a reason to belittle me, since vegetarianism has faint religious implications here, many Buddhist monks proffering that, and you know my family and monks... Oil/water. Necessary evil. The irony here is that I'm now the vegetarian, figuratively.

  7. The buying vs hoarding thing is something that has oscillated through our family and it is amazing how tense it can make you when the adjacent generation has the opposite approach! My granny was a shopper and throw-awayer, my mother is a hoarder (in explicit reaction to Granny), and I've ended up as a person who has reacted to both by never buying anything at all if I can help it. Other than books and yarn of course :-)

    I think you are doing an amazing job of being a daughter at a very difficult time. The fact that you have to stay in the same house for a prolonged period is especially stressful - there's nothing like moving back in with a parent to make you appreciate a partner, is there?? - so I'm glad you've found all these interesting classes and things to do while you are there. In fact I'm quite envious of that part! I do hope it helps to maintain your sanity.

  8. Ha ha, Cally - we've arrived at the same place! Books and yarns. When we moved from Japan to NZ in 1994 and from Auckland to Nelson in 1996, the movers were amazed how few clothes we had, (we were told about 1/3 of an average couple) but how many books, (about 3-5 times). Now that makes us sound as if we are a well-read couple, doesn't it??


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