So, after all this shit happened — believe it or not, 3 months later, my mother dies.
So we travel back to my home town, and are staying at my dad’s house, which hasn’t been sold yet.
I spent most of the the time clearing out my mom’s assisted living quarters by myself, and I avoided everyone else as much as I could.
But two important things happened during that time.
One was that right after Mom died, as we were walking along the hospital halls, I apparently said something about our mom that my youngest brother considered insensitive, and all hell broke loose. While no one can remember what it actually was that I said, Joe later wrote that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”
I have apologized to my youngest brother for whatever it was I said multiple times, and specifically for hurting his feelings with this mystery comment.
As far as I know, he still insists on believing that my motivation for making that remark was to “get back at everyone” for what happened at Dad’s death.
(Which is interesting, because it shows that on some level he recognizes that the two situations are in fact parallels. But it simply isn’t true that I made my remark with intention for revenge — although ascribing such a nasty motive to me without any evidence is a completely normal thing to do to a scapegoat. Scapegoats are guilty, even if they are proven innocent. I also think that even if I had done it out of revenge, I’d think I might have some justification, after that horrible experience.)
Anyway, just to recap:
- Susan had a jolly, laughing conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death (laughing while standing in the room with his body!). I found that upsetting, and politely asked them to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that.
- I said something shortly after Mom’s death, while walking down the hallway away from the hospital room. My brother finds it upsetting. But he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.
The two events are basically equivalent. But I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. Susan “did nothing wrong”. I, on the other hand, was completely wrong.
This set of events is what led me down the road of wondering how this is possible. From there I learned about narcissism and scapegoating. Voilà. It explains many things that are otherwise inexplicable.
The other thing that happened was bullying. While my husband and I were staying in my Dad’s room, at one point my youngest brother decided he needed to shout at me for something (I am not sure if it was the above-mentioned remark, or what).
He came into our room to yell at me, he stood in my way so I couldn’t escape, and he refused to get out after I clearly and repeatedly told him to. Once again, no one came to my aid, other than my husband. No one told my brother that he was out of line to physically corner me in that room, and shout at me, and refuse to get out or let me leave.
No one found it unacceptable to let him bully me like that.
When I told my therapist about all this, she said, mystified, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.”
This led me to the concept of healthy personal boundaries, as well as figuring out that I probably don’t have very good ones.
Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries… You may not believe you have any rights if yours weren’t respected growing up.
And guess who else doesn’t have healthy boundaries? Probably just about everyone in this family, because the immediate reaction to conflict in this group is not to empathize, communicate, and resolve — but to shirk responsibility (my sister and my eldest brother) and to blame (Joe and Susan and my youngest brother).
… since you’re accountable for your feelings and actions, you don’t blame others.
Another article on boundaries has this to say:
…an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this… Mom is a narcissist, while the [child] is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her [child] is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The [child] is afraid of standing up to Mom, and she exploits his caregiving.
I am instantly reminded of my sister’s words about testifying for our mother in the divorce hearing: “… She had no one else. NO ONE.”
Odd, that my sister could find it in her heart to stick up for my mother in those difficult circumstances, yet refuses to get involved with the current conflict.
Well, not so odd. My sister was parentified by our mother worse than anyone else in the family, probably because she was a girl.
…parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parent’s therapist, or take one parent’s side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.
And of course, if boundaries are learned, and our mother had lousy ones, then how would anyone else have learned anything healthy from her?