From messed up to courage

“Messed up” is not Jen Sincero’s term, but I draw the line at use the F-bomb.  Here goes:

It’s not your fault that you’re (messed up).  It’s your fault if you stay (messed up), but the foundation of your (messedupness) is something that’s been passed down through generations of your family, like a coat of arms, or a killer cornbread recipe, or in my case, equating confrontation with heart failure.

The terrific thing about currently hot personal transformation gurus like Jen & Brene Brown is that they use themselves as their starting point.  In her qualitative research practices, Brene talks very little about clients she’s treated, instead drawing more on her own stories.  In Braving the Wilderness, she shares her emotional devastation (spoiler alert) as the new girl in town who failed to make the drill team of her Houston high school because “I was a solid dancer but not Berkadette material.”  A shame I doubt her parents  or school counselors gave any value, but which dragged her down long into adulthood.

It makes sense that Jen would use herself – she doesn’t have a PhD from the University of Houston, nor did she pioneer a new field of research that teams scientific methods with storytelling.  But that Brene does – well, that makes her a hot shot researcher we can RELATE to on the most personal level.

Unlike most of the kazillion self-help books written prior to 2007, Brene uses herself, her loved ones & friends as her examples of messed up/marvelous, opening the way for Jen to jump in & do the same.

Every day, I give thanks for people like Jen, Brene & Glennon Doyle Melton, who use they personal pain & wrenching experiences to show better paths to balance & some semblance of sanity.

It MATTERS that Jen writes about her family equating confrontation to heart failure.  My mother would have preferred keeling over to confrontation.  Mom & I were opposites.  She hated confrontation & tolerated conflict, whereas I hated conflict & tolerated confrontation.

My sister, Mim, seesawed between the two.  If the issue did NOT involve her directly, she typically responded well talking directly about issues;  if they did touch her in some way – watch out.

That’s how I saw remember things.  Am quite sure that Mim would have had a different recollection.  Wait – Mim actually had NO recollection.  She literally wiped out all memories of our interactions – other than ones that left her looking independent & self-supporting.  Really & truly, utterly & completely.

Honestly, she had no reason to think otherwise.  Kerry, my brother Mike’s wife, said that I took too much credit in what was done for Mom, that Mim & Peter played as much their roles as I did.  She was right – their family role was have things done for them, not for them to do things for others.

Mom didn’t expect Mim to lift a finger, clearly neither did our Australian contingent.  To them & to Mim, having Mom live with me was more than full recompense for whatever I did for her.  Yes, it was a convenient thing to believe, but there’s no denying how totally they did & do believe it.


Up until her late 80s, Mom pushed away confrontation, crumpled under any pressure – if things didn’t go how she’d expected, she just wrote over it with a story she could accept, a story that she believed in her heart of hearts was what happened.

Peter believed what worked for him, which isn’t all that unusual in people.

Mike lay low.

And Kerry – she was & is the most astonishing of all, in that she thrived on confrontation, priding herself on her Aussie bluntness, yet when faced with a situation that really got to her, would turn tail & run, acknowledging in a letter that she opted to bury her head in the sand rather than work through an emotionally-wrought situation.  When it came to communicating with Kerry, both Mom & I found that we were damned if we did & damned if we didn’t.

Mom, Mim, Peter, Kerry – in my experience, they’d all rather collapse from heart failure than constructively confront issues.  AND my guess is that they all feel that I stonewall healthy communication.  The reason is true for many families, but I don’t recall it being discussed – – we use the same words & terms, BUT don’t experience or interpret them in the same way.

When we haven’t a clue that our family processes what we’re saying & vice versa, it’s not surprising when it all becomes a giant sticky mess.  Put the care of a loved one into the mix – it can get hyper nasty.

Compared to most families dealing with providing support to an older loved one, I was spectacularly blessed.  My sibs were clear in how they felt about Mom’s care, about me, about their own responsibilities toward our mother  They understood her way better than I did.  They knew that all she expected from them was to show up in her life on occasion.  She wanted to be with me, wanted me to provide the lion’s share of her care, because it was natural to me, onerous only to the degree that it was assumed that I & I alone would provide it.

That is not unusual.

I wish my experience had been the outlier, but it is sadly the norm.  AND PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THAT.  It’s not personal that other family members leave one particular person holding the bag, when a parent can’t understand a child’s frustration at having sole responsibility – it all makes sense to them.

Again, I was lucky that Mom was clear in her feelings.  When I said it felt that she asked nothing from Peter & Mim to keep a thin thread of hope that they’d occasionally show up in her life, she not only agreed, she wondered why that would be an issue for me.

It’s not someone’s fault if they naturally feel that a sibling or some other was intended by God to provide the considerably greatest share – or all – of a loved one’s care.  It is their fault if they don’t have the brains & sensitivity to recognize the imbalance & do something to set things right.

Small things can make a big difference.  It would have meant the world to Mom if Mike & Kerry had called from Australia on a regular day, at a regular time.  They were asked – I admit, by me – and they declined.  Mim & Peter were asked by Mom for emotional support via regular phone calls; within a month of the asking, they had distanced themselves.

I don’t bring this up to castigate, but to point out that sometimes – maybe usually – family just doesn’t get it.  There’s too much messedupness – –  too much & on too many different levels, with too many different nuances, for a lot of families to come together.  It CAN happen (3 cheers for the Hyatts!), but not often enough.

SO, if one of the things that’s been passed down through the generations of your family is being messed up when it comes to the support of a loved one & your sibs are doing nothing to lend a hand, DO NOT turn to them for help.  Develop a support network of your friends & your parent’s buddies.  Find someone to talk to.  Here in the Philadelphia area, there are Meet-Up groups of care partners; in the Washington DC area, there is the Northern Virginia Consortium of Care Partners.  Your family – you – might be like Jen’s & equate anything that remotely smacks of confrontation with heart failure, so go out & FIND people who will strengthen your courage muscle.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  There are other people out there like you, like Jen, like Brene – people facing emotionally trying times, times that require a level of courage we never imagined.

We think of courage as meaning bravery, fearlessness, a willingness to put oneself in danger to protect others, but an earlier meaning was “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”  If you can’t find support within your family, know it’s not personal – it is weird human nature at its funkiest.  Look elsewhere.

If you’re the one receiving support – don’t take it personally if most of your children aren’t there for you.  It stinks, but not worth taking a torch to your relationships.  Appreciate all that the ones who are around do.  And please – don’t be like my mother, who kept things bottled up inside.  Find people YOU can talk to when things get dicey; it is healthy to have people with whom YOU can speak your mind by telling what’s in your heart.  Hopefully, you have someone in your life like my John, someone who loves you & your children – all of them.

If you’re the one offering support – my greatest hope is that you are part of a team like the Hyatt family, where each of the six adult children played a specific role (and even in their situation, the one & only daughter was the one Anne always called).  If not, don’t take it personally.  Find people you can talk to when things seem to get freaky, especially other care partners.  Take care of yourself, emotionally & physically.  Hopefully, you have someone in your life like my John, someone who loves you, your family & especially the one who needs support.

The only one you need to be able to confront with courage is yourself   It will be wonderful if the others can handle confrontation without equating it to heart failure, but if they can’t, let that be THEIR problem.  Which is not to say stop trying.  After Mike expressed a desire to help out, Mom sent down a list of things they could consider, from a pair of new shoes to a new mattress to covering her supplemental Medicare coverage payments.  Kerry responded – they (she?) considered the money they’d already paid toward medical care Mom received on a 1985 Down Under visit had satisfied their obligations – ouch!

We tried, which is what matters.  As hard as it is, never give up hope AND don’t put yourself or your loved one – whether you’re the care partner giving or the one receiving support – at risk.

Seek enlightenment in your own stories.  Equate confrontation with courage.  If you do, things might not go the way you hope, but they will always go well.

Author: auntdeev

playfulness coach, life enthusiast & general instigator, ENTJ, cat lover

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