I've written before about how I believe that many people become obese (not the casual overweight) because of some sort of trauma in their lives. I won't rehash what I wrote in the linked entry, as I believe it adequately describes my thoughts. In that way, the excess weight isnt merely pounds to be lost, but scars to be healed.
I've also written before about some of the trauma in my life--namely my mother having three miscarriages (1987, 1988, 1989), my maternal grandmother ("Nana") dying (1991), and my own mother dying (1994). But it wasn't these events that necessarily were the trauma, but the context and/or manner in which they arose.
By 1987, I think I was old enough to comprehend what a miscarriage was -- maybe not the word, but the concept of "mommy lost the baby." I saw her crying, I saw her depression and anger. I knew something was very wrong. When she was pregnant the second time, I tried my hardest to be help her and be careful with mommy so that she didn't lose the baby. I don't remember being told about the third baby until after mom had lost it. One day when mom was trying to explain it to me, she told me that "maybe if you were more helpful around the house, mommy wouldn't have lost the baby." It took many years to pinpoint that comment as the actual trauma -- it wasn't that mommy lost the babies, it was that she insinuated that there was something I could have done to prevent it. As an adult, I realize just how ridiculous that was, and that I had no control or impact on her ability to carry a child.
Sometime amid the crisis of moving from one town to another and the loss of those babies, my Nana had a massive stroke and was partially paralyzed. We found her a nursing home close to where we lived and she stayed there for close to two years. In December 1991, we went to visit her the same day we put up the Christmas tree. My mother and I went inside the nursing home to visit with my grandmother while my brother and father were outside in the car. I don't know what was special about that night or that moment in particular, but my mother began talking to Nana about Nana's husband, John. He had died in 1966. My mother spoke softly about how Nana probably missed John, and that John missed Nana. My mother softly stroke my grandmothers white hair neatly away from her face. In a very short time (under 20 minutes?) my mother was able to give my grandmother permission to as well as coax her into letting go. It is a profound experience for a 10 year old to intimately witness the death of a grandparent. It was an experience that was never put into context, and I was never able to express my confusion and hurt of that experience. Why did my mother insist that I was there for that moment?
On September 5, 1994, my mother woke in the middle of the night throwing up in bed. My father enlisted help to take care of and tend to mom while he changed the sheets. By morning she had no recollection that she was sick in the middle of the night. But the headache she woke with never went away. The doctor she went to did a cursory examination and said that she had a sinus infection. They gave her some prescriptions and sent her on her way. Over the next few days she was sick enough that both my grandma (my dad's stepmother) and my mom's former teacher/friend, Eileen, tended to her bedside while we were at school. The headache wasn't getting better. They took her to the hospital. The initial diagnosis was a severe sinus infection. The ache in my gut told me that it wasn't the case. My brother and I knew something was wrong in her head. People seemed to glance over the most important detail--something that stood out to both me and my brother at the time--that my mother didn't remember getting sick. The third night she was in the hospital my mother had a massive seizure and went into a coma. It was too late. The aneurysm in her head that had been causing the headaches, the nausea, the memory loss, had ruptured. My mother never awoke from the coma. On September 27th, my father returned from the hospital to my grandparents' house (where we had been going after school) to tell us that our mother had died.
One could see how that alone was a significant trauma to a 13 year old -- but even looking back, that wasn't the trauma that caused me to overeat and shut down into a stoic, angry teen. It was once again the details and the context: my mother had not simply died. They had done two tests to determine that there was no brain function. The first one was a few days before my father had decided to remove her from life support. The anger was because for days no one told me that my prayers were futile, that my negotiations with god were wasted breaths. The hurt was because no one warned me that it might be a good time to say goodbye. My father robbed me of the chance to kiss my mother's warm cheek and tell her that I loved her. His selfish decision to have those moments for himself were the hardest thing for me to forgive. You might say that he was doing what he thought was best for his children, but please don't. I know my father better than you do. I know his mental process. I've even discussed this with him. The idea of including his children (one who had already witnessed the death of a family member) in this decision had never crossed his mind. He had days to prepare himself for the inevitable, whereas it hit me like a sack of bricks. I can still feel the sensation of the wind being knocked out of me as I fell to my grandparents' light blue living room carpeting, screaming desperately that I had been wronged by the universe.
The injury continued when my father did not let me speak at her funeral. The injury continued when my father's grief (the dredged up grief from his past as well as the current grief) overshadowed my own. The injury continued when I was forced to grow up and deal with things beyond my emotional capacity without any guidance or comfort from my father. Instead, the roles were switched -- my father asking his child for comfort, seeking guidance from his child. I was only able to deal with my grief and my issues once I was out of the house and in college, and only then was I allowed to experience my grief and feelings as my own. ((Just FYI -- my dad and I have discussed all of this, and I've been able to find forgiveness in my heart for most of this, however this is a huge scar in my life and the healing will take and has taken a long time)).
Last year, in April, my dad's stepmother, Janet, passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's (my father's biological mother passed away in 1957 as a result of a heart defect). My father called me at work to tell me this news. It was expected, but it still dredged up all the history, all the feelings of what it is like to lose someone you love, and that loved you. Since then, my grandfather's health hasn't been so great.
And well, I'm bracing myself for the inevitable storm.
The hardest thing for me to deal with in all of this is trying to carve out a space for my own feelings -- not having to defer to someone else's feelings or be inundated by drama, logistics, or anything else. My grandpa is my last living grandparent. He is the champion of my romantic life. In his old age he has mellowed out (in some ways) and become someone I can have inside jokes with and gently tease. When he is sick and everyone is talking about the medications he's on and which doctor he's seen, I'm the one that asks him how he's doing and tries to get him to laugh. Being 200+ miles away is hard, but we chat on the phone (when his lungs are up to it) and email frequently. My relationship and experience with my grandfather is my own little treasure.
I'm not writing this post looking for sympathy (and I'd actually prefer if people didn't comment on this entry). However it's something I needed to write in order to move forward.