We've all heard the phrases -
"Charity begins at home"
"You have to love yourself before you can love someone else."
Etcetera. And I know that forgiveness needs to begin with me.
I've been such a mess since Stephanie died. I think people have an idea that the grief of a parent who loses a child is the same as other kinds of grief. It is definitely not. When I lost my grandmothers, I was sad. The first year was emotional whenever I thought of them or wanted to talk to them only to find them forever gone. But it was an expected progression of life. When my dad died, that hit me hard. We had so much unresolved between us. But again, he had had cancer for 7 years, and it wasn't that much of a surprise. I'd had time to think about it, but for some reason, I thought there was more time.
And then came the death of my mother. That one sent me into therapy. She and I had our moments of closeness and our moments of anger. Both of my parents had tempers, and my mom could really figure out what buttons to push. She certainly pushed mine. But my siblings and I sat with her the last two weeks of her life and took care of her. We had an opportunity to minister to her in her last hours, and that was a beautiful thing. Still. I found myself bursting into tears if someone said the word "Mother," and I felt that - again - there was so much unresolved between us, though I'm not sure we could have resolved anything. My family is a mess of loose ends and unfinished business.
Stephanie was difficult. From the time she came home from the hospital, she was fussy and screaming and clinging to me. I just thought she was a difficult baby (and I almost decided not to have another!). But throughout her life, it continued.
By the time she was an adult, living on her own (regardless of who paid the rent - usually her parents!), the screaming had turned to other nasty attention-grabbing devices. All of these things were going through my mind last night, whether it was while I lay there waiting for sleep to come or while I was dreaming. There are many examples, but here is one that sucked me in.
She told me that one of her roommates was poisoning her. She was very detailed in describing the way she figured it out. She was tired. She had dark circles under her eyes, joint pain, and hair falling out. She described his strange behavior and his habit of locking himself in his room when she came home from work. I listened intently and urged her to go to the doctor or ER and see if she indeed had been poisoned. As usual, I told her we would pay for it. Back then, you see, there was no ACA and therefore she was too old to be covered by our insurance plan.
She told me she had it covered. That should have clued me in, but you want to always believe your child, right?
The saga continued, and she claimed that the doctor said she needed chelation therapy. She confronted the roommate and suddenly he was going to move out (which was her desire all along). I was still stuck on her claim that he was poisoning her and that he needed to go to jail. I demanded to know his full name, not just his first name. But she wouldn't give. Another red flag. But I persisted. She was living an hour and a half away from me, so it wasn't convenient for me to just run over, and she always had some excuse when I called and wanted to come see her.
But after her first chelation therapy session, and after the roommate was gone, she let us come over. Her friend Beth was in the process of moving in. Everything was just the way she wanted it.
Before I even sat down, she showed me two needle marks on the underside of her right wrist. They were about two inches apart. She said that was where they put the two lines in and basically did dialysis. I've seen the arms of people who've had dialysis before, and they weren't quite so perfect and neat. They also appeared to be larger holes with a higher gauge needle. But I tried to hang onto the suspension of disbelief. There was never any mention of chelation therapy drugs, because I would have asked to see the bottles, and she couldn't risk that.
It wasn't until I started doing some homework about chelation therapy and noticed the way the talk of poisoning dropped off suddenly ("The doctor said I don't need any more therapy" - and that was that), that I began to realize I'd been duped - again.
Those kinds of scenarios happen more than I can ever say. I never knew when to believe her, so when I didn't necessarily believe she had been mugged the Sunday morning before her death, I hope you'll understand. No matter how much attention we gave her, she craved more. Every story was bigger than the last - up to the big one (her claiming to have breast cancer). It made it very hard to trust her. I couldn't trust her not to steal money or medication. I couldn't trust her to tell me the truth about anything. I've never known anyone with so many imaginative lies.
So when I have problems trusting now, I try to remember that my first child, the one I doted on and adored, lied so much that it killed all my trust. Like the immune system destroyed by intense radiation and chemotherapy, my trust system had been destroyed. Suddenly, everyone became suspect in my eyes. Even me.
I didn't even trust my own feelings, intuition, and emotions. I still don't, to a certain extent, but I'm getting it back. I accept a large part of the responsibility for the issues my wife and I have had. One little white lie can turn me inside out and bring out the anger in me. I know where that comes from, and I have to put it to bed. Forgiveness is going to have to start with me. And then we have a fighting chance of making our relationship last.