Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Collateral Damage

I have been considering whether or not this blog has played itself out.  Maybe, I think to myself, I am ready to move on to a happier blog such as "What Crazy Thing I Saw a Yinzer Do Today."  Or, maybe I'm ready to take another stab at writing short stories that end up not being very short and therefore never finished.  Maybe I should revert to an actual journal where I can write the petty little things that pop into one's head like, "Saw my neighbor when I went to get the mail today.  She won't say hi no matter what.  What a jerk." (Not a real example, my neighbors with the exception of The Mikes are exceptionally lovely people.)  And, as it happens, I've been on the road a lot lately, so there has not been a lot of opportunity to  sit down and write anything, so for a brief while it looked as though I had by default sent it off gently into the night.  However, certain events have pulled me back here for now.  And, as with my last post, I hope this helps someone else someday because it's a crying shame if the participants in my recent dramas stumbled through all of this for nothing more than the sum of our experience.

If I have said it before, I will say it again because it bears repeating:  if, as a parent, you ever say, "At least I don't have to worry about [insert name here]..." then you really need to worry about [insert name here].  That is exactly the position I found myself in a decade ago.  I had one child sliding into a hell I didn't understand.  I had another child watching all of this, way too young to process what was taking place.  And, still trying to maintain a career, I abdicated a lot of responsibility for her older sister to my youngest daughter.  She had to call the ambulance once.  She had to help Kelsey up the stairs more than once for various reasons.  She had to make me dinner or lead me off to bed countless times when I was so overcome with fear and frustration, I failed to take care of myself.  I've since seen this in other households: where the child becomes the parent.  It's not the way it's meant to be.  There will be consequences when it happens. 

I don't tell my youngest daughter's story often or in great detail because she is still capable of voicing it herself - as much or as little as she cares to.  That doesn't mean I'm not sensitive to it, and that I don't realize the role I played in it.  And I am extremely aware of the hard work she put forth to overcome her own eating and addiction issues.  I am proud of her.  She has had to battle her own demons while battling her deep grief, as well as all the other normal young adult garbage everyone struggles with:  the pressure of college, the bumps and grinds of young relationships, trying to define oneself as an adult, trying to have some fun while you're young, but on a budget.  We had remained close through this process.

And I was grateful for that because some of the reading I had done indicated that was not the norm.  That surprised me a little at first, but if you think about it, there is some logic to it.   The knee-jerk reaction is to either smother the surviving child or abandon them as the parents lose themselves in a blanket of grief.  At the least, the dynamics of the familial relationships have to shift some.  What I am finding now is that it is myopic not to examine that.  It is so hard to do it right, though.  How do you let your surviving children know that you love them as much as ever even though you're hurting?  How do you let them live their lives without smothering them with your fears?

I have been made aware recently that I have not answered those questions well, so I have to get back to you about that.  What I will tell you now is that everyone walks away from deep trauma a different individual.  That means the family unit is forever changed as well.  Ignoring it does not change the fact of it.  My advice in that case?  Talk to your children about how you feel and listen to them when they respond in kind.  Understand one another as much as you can and also understand there will be times where you just will not be on the same page.  Understand that trauma does not release you from your duty as a parent.  Conversely, it does not give a sibling a blank check to act out.  And, above all, be careful with your words and do not wield them as weapons, because they can cut deeper than the sharpest blade and some cuts do not heal easily.

Above all else:  love one another.

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