Compassion for Difficult Family Members?

Last night my mom left a voicemail to call her back. Assuming that a voicemail like that was bad news, I called back pretty immediately. And she proceeded to say:

“Your Uncle Matt is currently in the hospital. He lost his voice last week, and they went in for a checkup and turns out he has a really large tumor in his neck. And two tumors at the base of his skull. And so they’re operating on the one in his throat, first, because it’s the biggest. They’re not sure if it’s cancerous, but it’s probably a side effect from the radiation he had as a kid for that tumor in his face.”

I tried to muster some compassion. This is my mother’s youngest sibling, twelve years her junior, and she was calling to ‘keep [you] in the loop so you don’t hear from the grapevine.’ But honestly…honestly? I couldn’t muster compassion. I tried to imagine my mother’s perspective, caring for her younger brother, especially since she was a mother figure to him growing up, but I just couldn’t do it. I thanked her for letting me know, and got off the phone quickly to head into my yoga class.

And before you start labeling me a horrible human, for taking this news so lightly, I must explain:

My uncle is an asshole.

I mean, not your average run-of-the-mill asshole, but like a certified ASSHOLE of asshole extremes.

It’s hard to put all the stories into one blog post. But he’s 50 years old (ish?) and lives next door to my parents…in the upstairs part of my grandparents house. He hasn’t worked a job in 30ish years, and spends his days sleeping and his nights playing pool tournaments. He is the angriest person I have ever met, and has done shitty things like strangling my parent’s pitbull (not to death, but still), calling and cussing out my family on their voicemail, dispatching the sheriff to the school my mom works at to complain about ‘noise’ (aka the dog barking…note, my parents live in the countryside), disowning his daughter because she married a black man, screaming obscenities at his 3 year old nephew for not shutting the door quick enough, etc. etc. etc.

These incidents have been happening since I was a child. He is angry, probably mentally ill, and has caused HUGE tensions in the family. The most difficult part is seeing my grandparents enable his bad behavior, and justify it, though now as a mom I wonder if I should be less hard on my grandma, specifically. And while his ASSHOLE behavior is no reason to wish cancer, or tumors, on him, I am still having a difficult time mustering up any compassion for his condition.

I am wondering what to do about this feeling. Not going to lie, there have been times in the past that I wished ill upon him because of how awful he has treated members of the family. But lately I have mostly felt neutral. Like, if I don’t have to think about him, or experience him in any way (can you believe it, after 8 years of being together, Boof has still never met him?) then I am much happier. At the end of the day, though, he is my mother’s brother, and she is worried about his health.

 

Thoughts? How do you have compassion or empathy for assholes difficult family members?

Grinch No More: A Mama story

Talk about heart growing four sizes in the past 9.5 months. Seriously. While I wasn’t necessarily always a hard-hearted grinchy type person, I rarely batted an eye at sad stories in the news or books or movies. In fact, there was a time that I prided myself on never cryting during movies (especially not during Titanic, because WE ALL SAW THAT COMING, since, it was, based on history, after all). At one point I even felt that crying could only be accomplished when reading a few key essays from Chicken Soup for the Soul, cheesy, I know. Perhaps my grinchiness was actually due to the fact that I felt so much sadness (depression?) inside, that if I let myself spontaneously cry, I felt as though I might never stop crying, and I’d still be sitting in my childhood bedroom sobbing, as a 30something adult (because, as a teen, that was as far as I could really imagine).

But since Potamus came bursting onto the scene, breaking down all of my heart-walls, I have actually found myself drawn to sadness…not as much in a must-have-catharsis-because-my-sadness-is-so-bottled-up way, but more of a genuine curiosity in relating and sitting and mulling over the place this emotion has in the world, as well as working on boundaries of sitting with sadness and feeling other people’s sadness through empathy, but also not carrying their burden inside myself, because I have my own sadness, and their sadness is not mine to carry.

As I was perusing my favori Parent Section of Huffington Post, I came across an article entitled: Lots of Tears With Less Than a Few Months to Live, where a woman writes about her experience blogging, with stage IV breast cancer, with only a few months to live…as a mother of a sweet girl Niomi.

I haven’t ventured to her blog, as the article left me struck with sadness, and my boundary is to only go as far as I feel like I can still keep my life-preserver and leave the sadness when I feel like I am drowning.

Two quotes struck me:

I will never get over my fears of not being there for Niomi as that is what truly scares me to death, but until the day comes, I will live each day to the fullest. I will instill in her the most valuable lessons I can. I will teach her to be strong, to give her advice through letters, through videos and even through our little talks while she’s falling asleep at night. But for now, we live day by day and that takes my fears away.

and

Can you believe I won’t know the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Parenthood? UGH. Now, that sucks. Hopefully they know these things in Heaven.

Initially I was a little embarassed about admitting that the sadness of missing a TV show, but it was so refreshingly honest and real and a great metaphor for missing all those little, mundane, real moments that we take for granted. Of course, as I go home and watch our DVR’d episode of Parenthood, tonight, with Boof, I will think of this woman who is dying of the same cancer that the character Kristina is diagnosed with.

But most gut-wrenching, is her explanation of how she is going to live moment-to-moment with her daughter. While hopefully no cancer is looming on my horizon, I got to thinking about the loss of mother, from a child’s or infant’s perspective. Does Niomi understand what is about to happen in the very-near future? Does she see and experience these moment-to-moments with her mama in a way that will stick with her somatically and emotionally until she is a very old woman?

Before Potamus, I believed that if I died, people would simply go on. I often wondered about what it would be like to simply cease to exist (not so much in a suicidal way). And I know, with my head, that Potamus would go on…everyone does, in their own way, but how can I go on?

Maybe that’s a weird statement. And maybe it’s selfish, but I wonder…if I was dying, how would I feel about going on without seeing Potamus grow up? I would be sad that he would grow up without me, but I think much of my sadness is on my end, around not wanting to miss his milestone moments.

 

Thoughts?