The temperature is intense in my sister’s room, as I try to arrange the bunch of freesias I bought for her at the markets into a vase that the hospital provides that isn’t really the right shape or size for them. I feel that intense mix of emotions which I cannot articulate and so I ask questions and babble on with some of my ‘news’ while my sister sits feet spread out on the bed in front of her. She complains of being tired and tells me the doctor has recently put her on a new medication. I ask her if she is getting any exercise at all. I don’t have the solutions for my sister’s depression and I cannot change it, I know she is on her own path, I try to stay connected but its always with mixed feelings because our history has not always been easy but as I share some things with her from the past I realise my sister lived her own life and I lived mine the best I could on the outside of the family and yet I am aware too of the similar losses that connect us.
I look at the schedule of talks provided in the facility that she has been resident in for the past few months now, a few of them look interesting to me but nothing really seems to bring sister’s energy fully alive, I notice a leaflet on grief and loss that has been left by a woman who actually runs a practice just around the corner from my house. She has an impressive list of qualifications in terms of academic studies but part of me wonders “what losses have you been through”. My sister is neither impressed nor drawn to the idea of counselling or therapy like me and I can understand that now. I try to see things from her perspective but there just seems not to be any way to share these things between us, but never the less they seem to swim silently below the surface of what is said. We talk of how Mum and Dad’s generation has to push on stoically and of the forces that impinged upon their emotional lives, such as the First World War and the depression. I share with my sister about the photo of my Dad I was looking at recently when the cancer is most probably quite well progressed taken on a trip to Indonesia. My sister doesn’t talk of my father ever. So its up to me and I am the one shedding the silent tears. My father was lost to me in many ways before he died.
I think of how frightening at times I have found both my sister’s diagnoses with so called manic depression and bi polar. In the 80s when my older sis would have been diagnosed it was still called by the former name which to my mind is more descriptive, just as shell shock seems a more sensationally based name than PTSD, a point with trauma therapist Peter Levine addresses in his book In An Unspoken Voice. Often it is the body that speaks loudest in trauma and if the body is not moving and the energy is depressed we also do not know what is going on in the mind and deep within the silent heart of the trauma sufferer. Trauma is also sensate and lives on in us through sensations which in my experience are not always easy to negotiate.
I found it peaceful visiting my sister today. I accept more where she is now and am aware of the limits of my power to help. I am aware of the push pull of deep ambivalence I feel and have felt in wanting to be close to a family that at times has felt so emotionally repressive to me. I found it a bit hard to breathe in the heat of the room today, I thought of how at Mum’s place I was often dying to open a window to get a breath of fresh air blowing through. My Mum lived for the last 26 years of her life in a apartment block called the Tower high up above the ground of things with vast views out to the lake. She often told me that she felt so grateful for her life as she gazed out across to the lake where she and her mother lived close to many, many years before..
I thought of how when the final parent dies families rearrange themselves after the loss. I have rare contact with my other brother now, I know it will be up to me to call him if I want any contact as obviously I don’t come to mind or if I do he finds me a bit too problematic to have contact with. His daughter told me at Christmas that he told her he cannot talk to me because I am so bolshy and reactive. The truth is I may be less like that now. I had a bit of a set to with him shortly before Mum died about how he always takes off overseas around the anniversary of my father’s death each year and how he refused to help my older sister’s second son when he asked for help. Sometimes I think it would have been better to stay silent so as not to alienate my brother even though my therapist told me I did nothing wrong, I just wish at times he felt enough love in his heart to want to call but how could he when I was so reactive. He ended up calling me a loose cannon as we stood in the hospital room together a few hours after my mother passed on 12 December 2017.
The truth is my family are not emotionally close. I keep trying the best I can to stay connected while realising how problematic that is. I watched an interview with Australian journalist Ray Martin during the week in which he spoke of how he completely cut contact with his alcoholic father after his mother left him, his Dad kept on drinking right up to his death but I still felt sad about that. In the end Ray did very well for himself and is a loving husband and father, so he probably made the right decision. In my own case I never really got to fully break away before this and when I start to feel undeserving due to my own past addiction issues I do need to remember that unlike Ray’s father I got sober in 1993 and have 26 unbroken years of sobriety behind me but precious little emotional support from anyone else apart from my therapist and blog followers.
That said I still struggle and yet I front up, not knowing at times when it may be better to sit it all out. I don’t have a lot of answers lately, just a whole heap of wonderings and questions. As I shared some of my mixed up alcoholic years in the aftermath of my father’s death with my sister today I was conscious of how lost I was and how I was always seeking some kind of safe haven in another, I think too of how sometimes now I get a fleeting glimpse of that within my own skin until voices of the inner critic pull the rug out from under more or another wave of feeling rises up. But I must remember too that my journey is still far from over, as I age and go through the cycle of the year so peppered with numerous traumas at times I find it hard to live in the present with the call of the past so very close to me, as close as a breath of wind and yet somehow each day I get up and go through my day, seeking ways to connect and articulate aspects of my journey in the best way I can. Sometimes it makes me sad how much I struggle with self love and forgiveness, considering all I endured I am lucky to be relatively sane. Today I could walk free of that place of inarticulate grief and feel relatively okay even if my heart still aches for my family and so many aspects of my past emotional life.