Here it comes again…that feeling…the feeling that I can’t beat off catastrophe. This morning Kim called me to tell me my mom is in the hospital. Something about her heart. She apparently woke up early with chest pains and a numbing in her arm. First she called my aunt to find out the name of the new hospital by her house. Then she called an ambulance. I know my mom, too. She’s a bad patient. She wouldn’t go to the doctor unless she thought it was serious, let alone call an ambulance. I talked to Kim briefly, then called my aunt who was at the hospital with my mom. They’re running tests. No one knows anything. My mom is awake, in good spirits and stable.
It was difficult for me not to be outwardly irritated with my sister. When she called, she was upset but mostly honed in on why she had to hear the news from my aunt (versus my mom calling her). I tried to explain that my aunt lives closer and that my mom was rightfully looking for the quickest route to the hospital. She was focused on not dying, I told her. I’m happy about that. I am not thinking about the fact that you are calling me to tell me. I am thinking about her health and I’m glad she got to the hospital fast. Kim wasn’t having it. Then she slightly shifted her focus to the notion that our mom might not be ok. She could die from whatever is going on. Kim said multiple times “I can’t live without her.” I was irritated. Whether she was worrying about how she heard the news or what she would do if my mom dies…she was still worrying about her experience. Like I said, it was difficult not be openly mad at her for being so selfish. I kept reminding myself that she was upset. That we are both worried.
Then she told me that she’d actually talked to my mom – while she was in the hospital – and had broken down to her…shared that she was upset that my mom didn’t call her, that she didn’t think she could live without her, etc. At that point I knew that I was seconds away from unloading on my sister in a way that wouldn’t be healthy so I got off the phone quickly. I was so upset with the idea that my mom was in the hospital, no doubt scared, no doubt having stress on her heart, and she was still being placed in a position of having to manage Kim’s experience. Who was taking care of her? I had to get off the phone. Fast.
There was a time I reached the same point with my sister her – it was when my mom called me crying because she had just received the news that she owed $10,000 for taxes. It was the first tax year after she retired and was living off her retirement fund so there was some naturally heightened stress anyway. But the real problem was that it was also a year where she had drained her savings helping pay Kim’s legal & life bills after she got multiple DUI’s, hit several cars and ended up in jail. I couldn’t take it. The next time I talked to Kim I laid in to her about how big of a toll her life was taking on my mom. She didn’t get it and at one point even said my mom supports her because she loves her so much. I went off. Kim never got it. The relationship was damaged for more than a year.
And Kim still doesn’t get it for the most part. She’s just not built to emotionally understand herself as an adult. I should say that I don’t blame Kim entirely for how she is because it’s really the summary result of a lifetime of how she’s been treated. Kim and my mom have an extremely co-dependent relationship, no doubt about it. My mom has an ingrained role being Kim’s care provider. Kim has an ingrained role being my mom’s grown child. Today, the two of them are enmeshed to a degree that’s limiting for both of them. It stems from Kim being sick as a child and my mom protecting her from bad outcomes for the rest of her life. Kim hasn’t had many big successes in life because she’s never had to swim out in the open water. At some point everyone’s expectations for her were just less. I don’t think that dynamic has served her well in life. If nothing else, she doesn’t think or function like other people that are 35 years old. She always gets where she needs to go…just slower than everyone else. I should add, the short time she spent in therapy yielded noticeable results. For the first time ever I heard Kim talking, on her own accord, about how selfish she can be. I have a long standing belief that Kim is depressed. I wish she would go back to therapy.
So I’m sitting at home feeling upset about my mom being in the hospital. And I’m feeling mad that she’s not getting an outpouring of support from the people she takes care of the most. And guilty. I feel guilty that I just filled a page with my irritation towards my sister and not my feelings about my mom being in the hospital. The truth is that focusing on Kim has allowed me to steer away from the feelings that are drumming in my stomach. My mom is the person that would wreck me the most if something happened to her – bar none. In the last year I have thought about losing both kids and my wife. I don’t know if I’m ready to dig in to my feelings about what’s going on with my mom right now. I think I need to focus on helping her feel better, cross my fingers and stay up late by myself…
I just talked to her for awhile. She sounded good, maybe a little worried but it sounds like whatever was going on with her has passed and now they are trying to figure out what exactly it was and whether or not they can do something to prevent it from happening again.
Update – mom is out of the hospital and home. She didn’t have a heart attack. They don’t know what happened. Years ago…2001 I think, she was in Los Angeles visiting me and had chest pains. She went to the hospital and was diagnosed with Pericarditis which is basically a swelling of the sack that holds the heart. I thought maybe she was having another bout with that but they apparently ruled it out this time. Some tests results are pending but from everything I’ve been told…there aren’t many clear answers thus far.
I’ve got another theory. My mom lives in a deceptively taxing world. On one hand, she’s retired, loves to spend time with her grandkids, teaches French and loves to travel, On the other, she is the primary caregiver for both her mom – who is moving into an assisted living facility (big, big deal) – and for my sister. When my mom is in a less stressful place, I want to talk to her about trying to make her life and, in particular, the role she plays with my sister and my grandma less stressful for her. The problem is that I don’t know if that’s actually possible. For one, neither of those two are going to work to alleviate anything my mom is going through. They don’t see it that way, especially Kim. Or maybe she could see it that way. Whether or not she has the ability to stand up on her own two feet, admit it and change is another question.