Saturday, March 8, 2014

Family Drama Queens

My dear parents phoned this morning.  My mother delivered their news flash with her newly heightened sense of drama that now equals my father's.  Is it a usual symptom of aging?  I don't know for sure but I pray, hope, plead with the Lord that I can avoid developing it.

When I answered the telephone my mother's voice came echoing over the line in sepulchral tones: "We have bad news...bad news...".

Since she used the word "we" rather than "I", it was clear my father had not dropped dead, but perhaps one of them had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness? My parents' condo had burned to the ground and they had barely escaped with their lives? Their pensions had been cut off?  My heart started to pound as I waited for her to tell me what terrible disaster had occurred.

She drew a deep breath and announced, "XXXX (gasp) has died (gasp, gasp)."

So, let me explain why I wasn't exactly blown over backward by this news.  "XXXX" used to be married, many decades ago, to another relative of mine.  I barely knew either of them, although I had a short term working relationship with "XXXX" when I was in my late teens.  Over the ensuing 40 years since then I have laid eyes on "XXXX" exactly twice and we spoke on the telephone once.  Each encounter was worse than the one before as "XXXX" made it abundantly clear that any sort of relationship with myself was not only not wanted, but was abhorred for reasons I was never privy to.

"XXXX" was also diagnosed with a terminal illness a few years ago and so this death was not exactly unexpected, not any sort of surprise to any of us.  

I am always sorry when an illness takes the life of anyone of any age, but "XXXX" was no spring chicken. At that stage of life death can appear for any number of reasons, no matter how well preserved a person looks on the outside.  We live, we die.

As I recovered from my mother's initial announcement and stilled my rapidly beating heart, I couldn't figure out an appropriate response to give my mother, to be quite honest.  When someone has gone out of their way to be nasty to me for no good reason, on top of barely knowing the person anyway, the death is rather meaningless to me apart from the generic feeling of sorrow I experience toward anyone who has died.

So, I just said I was very sorry to hear that and thanked her for letting me know.  Then I changed the subject.

What really annoyed me was not my parental unit and their dramatic sense, not the person who died, nor the way I was treated during our last few contacts.  What annoyed me was that I fell once again for that overblown dramatic presentation my parents are now both so good at.  Emotionally I was immediately suckered in, no filters to tell me to just relax until I found out what this terrible news was all about.  That is what annoyed me. After over 50 years you would think I would be smarter than I was today and stop getting myself into a flap before I even knew the content of the news.

I am the problem. The problem is me.  Despite years of counselling to recover from growing up in our household I still, on occasion, fall for the same old games.

When will I ever learn?  Aiiiiiii  yiiiiiii........  When I was a child everything was perceived as a tragedy and I know that and yet....today.....

Well, this humiliation too shall pass. There are just some days when the old tapes play no matter how successful a person has been in changing them.    

1 comment:

chris e. said...

No you are not the problem, you've just successfully distanced yourself from being the audience for the Family Drama Revue long enough to start expecting them to act like normal people!
My father is the same way, relating tragedies about people (all in his 92 year age bracket) I have never even met breaking hips, getting cancer etc. Of course I feel for these people, they are suffering terribly! It's just that things tend to go wrong with people as they age so none of it is that surprising. Also I have had a lifetime of him dismissing any suffering in my life as absolutely trivial.
I think their over-reactions are due to the fear that they may be next. And in my father's case, fear about what comes after death. There are plenty of people in his life who could help him with that part, but so far he isn't listening.