Tag Archive: Death


 

As children we believe that we are the center of everything, that is why children who experience the trauma of problems in the family, such as marital discord and divorce, often blame themselves for it. It is just part and parcel of childhood development, It is even worse when parents appear to blame us by behavior that seems to be rejecting of us. Of course there are times when that is perception and there are times when the rejection is real. But do we know the motives behind these behaviors? Not always, because once again we think it is about us, not them.

Grief

Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems in my family were not about marital discord, but something that shook the very foundations of the entire family, the death of my brother. This is perhaps the most traumatic thing that can happen to parents, and it often results in divorce. In my parents’ case, they supported each other, which was good, but that does not mean that the family dynamics were not dramatically affected.

It has taken me a long time to put the pieces together and realize how much of my parents’ behavior towards me was a result of this. Some of the details I only found out about as an adult. My therapist also helped me to understand this better as well. I am now in a position where I am able to finally put myself in their place, rather than letting my wounded inner child carry the whole narrative. Perhaps I should have seen this earlier, I am now 50 years old, but better late than never.

From my earliest recollections, I never felt loved. My mother was critical and rejecting of me and my father was distant. I never bonded with either of them. There are many reasons for this dynamic, but one of the big ones was the accidental death of my older brother at age six. I was only a year and a half old when this happened and my sister was four,

Looking at family pictures is very telling. My sister for instance looked very happy and care-free before this happened. Afterwards I can see the birth of the very serious sister that I knew growing up.

I don’t remember my brother, yet oddly enough I miss him. A piece of the family went missing and never came back. I am told that he adored me, and would crawl along behind me on the floor and call me “baby-doll.”

The trauma didn’t actually start with his death, although that was the climax of it. He was always a sickly child. Born prematurely, he had a defect in his stomach valve that caused him to have serious fits of vomiting, where he became dehydrated enough to require medical attention. Insurance laws on pre-existing conditions back then made it extremely difficult for him to get the surgery he needed to correct the problem. Family pictures show him as a happy child, but pale and skinny. He looked similar to pictures I have seen of children with cancer.

Eventually he did have the surgery, but it did not fix the problem. During another one of his vomiting episodes my mother took him to the doctor. His regular doctor was out of the office, but another one was covering for him. My parents at that time had no idea that he was not a pediatrician. He gave my brother a shot of compazine for the nausea and sent him home.

The following details I only got from my father after my mother passed. I never knew the exact details of my brother’s death but they are horrifying.

In the afternoon my mother got a call from the doctor. He told her that he thought she should take my brother to the hospital. But my brother had stopped vomiting so she assured him that everything was fine. She just thought the doctor was acting out of an abundance of caution.

That night my brother died in his sleep. An autopsy showed that he had fluid in his lungs. The medical examiner believed that he aspirated vomit.

My father was very suspicious about the whole thing and went to see the pediatrician. Having not treated my brother himself he looked in the medical record. He did not have much to say to my father, but he left the record with my dad before leaving and asked for him to take it to the front desk. My father believes this was intentional, that the doctor wanted him to see what was in there. My father took note of what drug he was given and the dosage. When he looked it up he discovered that the doctor had given him the ADULT dose of the drug!

And the most horrible part of the whole thing is that obviously the doctor at some point realized what he had done, which is why he made the strange call to my mother. But he was too chicken to tell the truth so he could get help!

The way compazine works to stop vomiting is to reduce the gag reflex but it also reduces the choking reflex as well. In an appropriate dose that is not a problem. But in the dose that my brother was given it completely eliminated it. My mother gave him water before putting him to bed. That water went straight into his lungs, explaining the autopsy results.

My mother blamed herself for not taking him to the hospital. She felt that she had put finances before my brother’s well-being because my father had just gotten a new job and they did not have insurance yet. Of course it was never her fault but that did not stop her from feeling guilty.

My father put the blame where it belonged and went to a lawyer but at that time the doctors were the ones who had all the powerful lawyers so it would have been almost impossible to win the case. Furthermore my father had no money to pursue this. And it was not going to bring my brother back anyway.

So here was my grief stricken mother who was trying to hold it all together and still take care of two young children, one just a baby. No wonder I felt rejected, she simply couldn’t deal with it all. My sister was probably old enough to be sensitive to the situation and try not to be a bother. Even before my brother died though, my mother most likely was having some trouble taking care of me because my brother was sick all the time.

Things were very bad for my father as well. In fact I can’t even imagine how he had the strength to keep going. He had to take time off from his new job to take care of funeral arrangements. And his boss bullied him over it. And not just him, but my father’s co-workers as well. My father has told me that they actually made sick jokes about my brother’s death. And he also told me something that shocked me even more than that. He said that this is the kind of bullying that makes people want to kill themselves. Then he said “But suicide would not have solved anything.”

Even as I write this down I am fighting back tears. My poor, poor brave father! No one should ever have to go through that!

He actually stayed at the job because they needed the money. So day after day he had to keep going. He was fired eventually, and this same boss blacklisted him, so he could not get another job. But my father got lucky on one count. He talked to someone who knew this boss and it turns out this guy had something scandalous on him, and told my father not to worry, that he would take care of the situation. The blacklisting stopped.

After putting this all together how can I not have empathy for what both of them went through? I would not have been able to endure that.

I now know that it wasn’t about me. The rejection I felt was from two people who were struggling to keep their heads above water. And they made it. They loved my sister and I enough to keep going.

God bless them both.

 

 

 

A mother holds up her child.

A mother holds up her child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a very powerful dream this morning. I was sharing a prison cell with a lovely young woman who didn’t seem to belong there since she seemed so nice. I was a cop who had been falsely accused of a crime (Ok I was Olivia Benson from SVU. I love that show!) When I was released and almost out the door, my cell mate came running up to me and said joyfully, “I finally know who I am!”

I puzzled over the meaning of that for awhile and then I remembered the Dr. Phil show that was on last week about maternal narcissism. Something about those women reminded me of my mother.

Now let me say off the bat that I don’t think my mother was a monster or that her behavior was as extreme as the guests that were featured on the show. However I recognized the distinct lack of empathy towards others and the tendency to make everything about themselves as traits that my mother exhibited during my childhood.

I have wanted to understand for a long time why my mother behaved the way she did, why she took my minor mistakes and misbehaviors as an attack on her. I am in a unique position where I can understand mental disorders from personal experience and therefore I have felt that if I can understand her then I can forgive her. However I know that she was not bipolar or depressed, although she could be moody at times. Her behavior was consistent towards me, regardless of her mood at the time.

This isn’t really about blame, it is about wanting to have compassion for her in order for me to move on.  And also having compassion for the child I was, knowing that the problem was not that I wasn’t “good enough.”

When I was four years old my maternal grandfather died. My mother’s relatives lived way on the other side of the country so we didn’t see them often. However we did go and visit them sometimes in the summer. Apparently I was very close to my grandfather, although I can’t remember him now. We visited with the family the summer after he died, and when we got there I was running around the house asking where “grampa” was.

My mother got furious with me, because she had already told me that he had died. I was “embarrassing her” in front of her family. She felt that they were judging her about not making me understand that he was dead. I have no idea whether they were or not, but that was the way she perceived the situation.

Somehow it never occurred to her that it was unrealistic to expect a four-year old to comprehend what death was. She made the situation all about her, and made it all my fault.

When I was a year and a half old and my sister was four and a half, our older brother died. I doubt that my sister understood completely what had happened, but it was made more real to her because she went to his funeral and his gravesite. She understood that he wasn’t coming back. In essence I think she understood the concept of death much better than most four-year olds.

Ironically, I don’t even remember the incident that my mother told me about and maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that I heard the story my entire childhood. It was all about how I had “shamed her” in front of her family. This was a continuing theme during my entire childhood that any perceived or real misbehavior was an attack on her.

My sister has told me that she felt that a lot of my mother’s behavior was due to ignorance about age-appropriate behavior in children. I have no doubt that this was true. But there was something even more basic that was wrong with her. She was completely unable to have empathy towards me. She couldn’t put herself in my shoes, not even for a minute. She was allowed to have feelings, but I wasn’t. As a result I felt completely abandoned and alone my entire childhood. She was physically there, but emotionally she checked out. Worse of all, I thought I deserved to be alone because I was such a “bad” kid.

I should have been allowed to grieve for my grandfather. Instead I was told to completely ignore his life and his death. I don’t even remember him now. I was young of course but I wonder if I might have remembered something about him if I had been allowed to mourn his loss.

Back to the dream I had this morning. This prisoner in my dream obviously represents me. And “knowing who I am” means knowing that I was an innocent child and that I can set myself free instead of remaining “locked up” forever. And freeing myself means that I can free my mother as well.

Update: Although I have worked in the mental health field for many years as a peer supporter, I am not a professional and my expertise is in helping those with bipolar disorder. I am not very familiar with personality disorders. As I have learned more about narcissistic personality disorder, I have figured out that my mother did not have all those symptoms. Still, her inability to feel any empathy towards me does fit, even if nothing else does. So I am keeping this post up, with the hope that it may help others.