The first time I became familiar with the writings and works of Elisabeth Kubler Ross I was still in high school and my mother had recently died. I attended an all girls Catholic school and my religion elective that year was called Death and Dying, The class was popular, I think its popularity had more to do with the charismatic male teacher that everyone wanted to take class with than the subject matter itself, (which is on one hand morbid and somber but on the other hand a cause for joy in the Catholic faith for it is in death that we are once again with our Father in Heaven). I was among those who hoped to have a class with Mr. Lewis, but looking back I am not sure if the subject matter was necessarily anything I was ready to conquer at the time. 30 years later, I do not remember much from that class..nor do I recall much about Mr. Lewis except that I remember the class being interesting and I remember towards the end he was rather irritated with me because I kept falling asleep in his class no matter what time of the day it was held (it turned out I had a rather nasty case of mononucleosis) What I do recall is I opened up one day in a class discussion and mentioned that in my mind I knew my mother had died, but I was still having a tough time believing it really happened ..almost like I was expecting to wake up from a dream and everything would be different. I also acknowledged I found myself really angry that I woke up every day and everything was the same . I talked about how I was making little deals with God at the time..just get me through today and I promise I will be kind and give someone my seat on the bus, or I will do extra chores at home, or think only good thoughts about everyone at home and how I felt let down by God in those days. That was when we talked about the grief cycle and I was introduced to Elisabeth Kubler Ross.
I confess I was not much interested in that book. or any book for that matter. I did not think anyone understood what I was going through and who needed a book to tell me in that moment and the moments ahead and recently left behind that life sucked. My mother was dead, my family was not easy to live with and I held on to a small glimmer of hope that things could and would get better. That book ON DEATH AND DYING is in a box somewhere in my basement. The book has tattered corners and yellowed pages, it has underlines and highlights of passages I needed to know for a high school class and later on from my own necessary interest in the content after another profound loss rocked my world. I find myself going to that book when I need to remind myself that it is ok to grieve even many years later ..to soothe the guilt that I am simply not over what happened , to understand that grief is not limited to death and dying that other losses in our lives are grieved..or if I need to help someone I know and love who is on their own journey of grief ..I am needing to seek its wisdom once again but lack the energy to search through all the crap stacked in the mess that occupies our basement. Thank goodness for the internet and sites like Facebook and Google where links to the information are easily accessible.
Today I am thinking about that book and all it that it taught me about loss and grief ..I made the mistake of looking at something I know I shouldn’t have and yup I was sucked down the rabbit hole ..out of acceptance and back into bargaining, sadness and worse…anger. I feel the anger bubbling inside and rising up like a pot of boiling water ..only right now I don;t know how to turn down the heat and I’ll be damned if I can find the lid to the pot..it is probably buried in the basement with my copy of ON DEATH AND DYING. Anger is that part of the grief cycle that I HATE..anger makes me frustrated and tearful, anger forces me to look through a different lens on things versus the one that makes me comfortable and worst of all anger leaves me feeling guilty.
Yes I feel guilty these days because I am getting angry ..I am angry at my mother because she is dead and she has been dead since I was a child..physically she died in 1986 at age 49..and it was her fault she died..lung cancer took her away from me, but she chose to smoke even when the poison from chemotherapy raced through her veins and radiation burned through her body hoping to buy her a few more months..she walked out of her appointments and lit right up ..nothing mattered to her but her own wants and desires and I get that now..even though I can see just how broken and complex her life was ..still I realize in the end and even before it was all about her. I am angry that whatever happened in the fall and early winter of 1973/74 when I was 4 years old totally derailed the path we were headed on and I do not think she was ever the same again. I am really PISSED that even faced with death my mother chose to keep her secrets regarding my father..that my mother knew she could contact him and arrange a meeting just so I could have some answers and she chose to deny me what I needed to know. I know I am supposed to see past that..I should forgive her and accept that she was a troubled soul with minimal education and probably a host of learning issues and maybe even mental illness.I know for sure 1 thing is she suffered from depression ..I know what I should do..but I can’t right now. Right now I am thinking about me.
I feel this painful sadness that I am learning bits and pieces about my father and who I am via the internet. It’s not the same as knowing someone ..it’s real and theoretical all at the same time. It’s sad and satisfying in its own way as well. Most people if they do not grow up with their families at least have relatives or friends who relay stories and tell them things like you have your father’s eyes, you remind me of your mother by the way you walk..your grandmother had the same look on her face when she was angry..I have none of that. My mother died and everyone stopped talking about her after the funeral as if she never existed..my father, the man who called int he middle of the night and stopped by long after I went to bed (except for once that i remember) the man to whom my mother often said in anger “she is a piece crap just like you” or “I can’t stand to look at her because she reminds me of you” ceased to exist after we moved out of our apartment ..he would remain Tony the lawyer with a wife named Carol and a daughter named Katie .the man who I ached to know, the man who should have rescued me just vanished like a puff of smoke in the air. He died in 2010 when I was 40 years old ..I found his obituary at the time..they did not even have a wake for him, they had a memorial at a later time .I wondered then like I do now..was it a ploy to keep me away. My sister Kate knows I exist..I wrote to her in my 20s..she lives in the same house now as she did then ..I till have the same address as I did then ..she never wrote back..she never called ..she just left me hanging. I found another relative named John Michael ..he acts as if I have no right to any information about my family that he holds…he and his sister called my father “Uncle Tony” ..I hate to break it to you John Michael but my father as you know was an only child, your mother Trish (I found her name thanks to ancestry research) was his first cousin on his mother’s side …my FATHER is your second cousin and I am more deserving of knowing who he was and how he died than you are. It took John Michael 4 years..that is right 4 YEARS to respond me after I reached out to him..and instead of having an ounce of compassion he came across as an asshole.
I am mostly angry with my parents ..they made a decision to carry on an affair..I am the result of that affair ..Tony got to walk away and go back to his wife, child, career and life ..my mother got to have his child ..I got to be abandoned, I got to be treated as a second class citizen and pitied because I did not have a father (I had/have one he just decided not to be a part of my life) I got to live in the projects in a 1 bedroom apartment infested with rodents and cockroaches, I got to live below a very mentally ill woman who could be dangerous, who stayed up all hours of the day and night screaming and slamming on the floor ..playing the same song on repeat on her stereo (I still cringe when I hear the song ME AND MRS JONES) I got to often go hungry, I got to be told how ugly I was and how much I ruined her my mother’s life. I got to wait to see if my father would show up even to just talk at my mother’s wake and funeral..and as far as I know he did not. I got to be rejected by my father after I wrote to him in my twenties ..I am still being rejected by my sister. My sister does not want to be bothered to have a relationship with me. I spent years feeling guilty that I wrote to her and told her who I am ( I was probably 23/24 at the time and that would have made her 31/32 it is not like we were babies) feeling like maybe I never should have said anything and just stayed in my troll corner..now I am pissed at her as well.
Kate..you do not have to have a relationship with me…I get it you see me as a less than person whose mother did something heinous to your mother. (Projecting here I know) and you are right ..I can’t excuse what my mother did or what our father did to your mother ..but let’s get something straight here.none of that is my fault. I did not choose my parents any more than you chose yours. I do not know the circumstances of your birth but I can tell you this…between the 2 of us..I was not wanted. Just the fact that I was a girl and not a boy was a huge issue ..but even after I was here neither one of them wanted anything to do with me. Here is the difference between us.. I doubt you ever went hungry, I doubt you were ever woken up at 2 in the morning because there was a raging dumpster fire or abandoned car burning in the alley outside your bedroom window and the flames shattered the glass from the window all over you as you slept. I doubt your mother told you how heinous you were simply for existing and that your father wanted you to be an abortion..I doubt you ever lived a day wondering who one of your parents is and looking in the mirror trying to figure out who you look like, wondering why you can read a book in a day (when your mother can barely read) or why your eyes are green when your mothers were dark brown, I doubt you ever wondered what nationality you were or if you had grandparents. I doubt you ever had to be the one who paid the bills at age 8, I doubt you had to learn to cook at 7 or ever had to eat mustard sandwiches for dinner, learn how to make a dozen of eggs, a stick of butter, a jar of peanut butter (a food I HATE) and a loaf of bread last for a week, or that you had to learn how to sneak off to relatives houses just to get something to eat because your mother and her sisters were not talking and once again you were hungry. I doubt you ever had to go begging the neighbors for milk, for some bread or worse what mattered more to your mother..cigarettes. I doubt you ever had to shake your clothes out or your school bad to make sure there were no cockroaches, I doubt you had to ask people to drop you off on a different street and pretend to go into a different house because you knew people would think differently of you if they knew you lived in the projects. I doubt you were on food stamps and I doubt you know what it is like to be utterly all alone in this world and have to figure out where you were going to go and how you were going to make it.
That is my life Kate..and still you look down upon me. In many ways I am grateful for that life because of it I am fiercely independent and very resourceful and I understand how a little compassion goes a long way. In other ways I despise that is what Madeline and Tony did to me and I feel guilty, sad and angry all at the same time that I just cannot accept that is the way it was. I don;t want much from you my sister. Naively I used to want a relationship where I had a sister ..I do not want that any longer..What I want is for you to acknowledge me just once..I want you to stop holding my medical history and anything about my father hostage. He is also my father like it or not..you are my half sister. we are family. I admit I am angry with you because you have the power to be kind and you are choosing not to be and I can’t understand why. If our roles were reversed ..I would welcome you into my life with open arms. I think life has taught me to be kind because I have not always experienced kindness and I know a little kindness can create change in anyone’s life. You don’t deserve my kindness ..but I know who I am and I will always have an open door for you. I make bargains with God every day ..If I just do this could you please send me a sign…I don’t have much left to bargain with. For as much as I am angry with you Kate..I am also so terribly sad ..no heartbroken for what probably will never be. I am sure all those who love you would say you are an amazing person and I am sure they are right..I am sure the ones who know about me think I am this awful human being who needs to stay in her place and out of your existence …the people who love me would tell you I am not so bad.I really do not have horns on my head and I looked there is no 666 tattooed at the base of my skull..my friends and loved ones can’t understand why you are rejecting me and think maybe you should reconsider your position. As for me..I will get through this cycle of grief, it will kick my ass for a while but in the end it will all be ok ..it has to be otherwise the grief and the crap wins and I am way to competitive to allow that to happen