I draw the line at saying murdered, though that’s what my mother thought.
After he – my father, her husband – died, she began telling strangers that my sister and I had abandoned her. I know this because a friend of the family heard her and – of course – told me.
But the accusation of murder was mine, all mine.
Sorry. My fingers stopped. Like my legs do when I’m looking down from a high place.
I’m finding it hard. I feel guilty. Have felt guilty for a very long time.
Not that it’s actually true, I hasten to add. I neither killed nor murdered my father – though he did die within hours of leaving my house and going home on a train.
My mother was furious, wanted me to drive them home.
He wasn’t well. I was full of the importance of a new job. Full of the feeling of duty –binding me to something that, in the end, really didn’t matter.
A feeling that leaves you the instant something like this happens.
But I’m writing this now because of something my brother-in-law is going through, thousands of miles away across the sea.
My father-in-law, his father, is in a nursing home. A strong father to five children and husband to a strikingly beautiful wife, he’s over 90 now.
He’s been clinging on to life through pacemakers and pneumonia and infected wounds and … well, he’s tenacious.
And like his other son, my husband, he’s driven to learn, to know, to find out.
I suspect he’s also afraid of dying.
Afraid of whether there really is something else beyond the grave, after all.
His own father was an evangelist and, as happens with parents and children, that caused him to rebel. He’s never been a church goer in all the time I’ve known him – though in recent years he did approach a pastor to do his funeral.
That’s all I’ll say about the man inside the withered frame, bent almost double with scoliosis, breathing through tubes that carry oxygen to lungs crushed by his contorted bones. It’s not my place to presume to know him well.
But even at this distance, I can feel what happens as the world begins to shrug a reluctant human off.
Some people are ready and waiting.
Some fight tooth and nail.
And sometimes they and their beloved lash out at the nearest – and should be next-dearest – in their hurt. In their fear.
Accuse sons and daughters of neglect, of cruelty, of torture – and in my case, of murder.
I won’t say I was lucky – but my father died instantly of a stroke as he was just beginning to need a wheelchair, had succumbed to diabetes, was needing more and more help.
And the years my mother remained were only five after her husband died. It was a tough time, but by comparison with the daily drives of many miles that my brother-in-law – and his wife and children – endure, it was nothing.
I had no children, will have no grandchildren. I have been left to spend my time as I choose as I grow older, unlike my brother-in-law.
He probably won’t like this so I’ll leave it at that. But I hope he realises that what he has been doing is admirable, whether his demanding father and fearful mother know it or not.
I always feel an inner cringe when people say ‘well, after all, he’s family,’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’.
There are times when parents need to leave their children alone, too.
My father, whatever his faults, knew that the best way to encourage this child to return home was not to whine, not to beg, not to plead, just to be there when needed, and welcome her.
My mother did not understand that, but then, she had a different nature.
Do you wonder why she thought I murdered my father?
I had to tell him he was no longer wanted at a place that had become his raison d’être. A former headmaster, but a historian at heart, in his retirement he worked as a volunteer at an outstanding National Trust property. He catalogued its contents, knew every bit of its history by heart, probably bored people to death who asked him questions.
His leg began to fail.
He used a stick.
A man, ex-army, took over as manager and the two did not rub along very well. One day, as my mother and I ate lunch in the restaurant there, he sidled over and told me my father had to go.
A health and safety risk.
Too slow to evacuate in case of fire.
I was younger, less questioning of authority then – ‘why should I tell him, that’s your job,’ I would have said now. Or something stronger.
But no. So I told him. The night before he died.
He lay in bed all day, until it was time to eat lunch and make ready for that train. Sad. Probably desolate. Grasping my hand as I walked impatiently by.
That’s how I murdered my father.
And I will never forgive myself for putting him on that train.
Mary Don’t be so hard on yourself, lived 4 miles from my parents and felt, even when bringing up a young family when they were old, (65 & 72 when Kate was born) that I did all I could to help them through various illnesses and traumas, but it was never really enough, especially for my Dad. They both died in nursing homes, inconsiderately when neither my sister nor I were there! We’d spent what felt like years by both their bedsides but the guilt is still there. Think it’s an inevitable part of modern life. Normax
Thanks,Norma, it took a big leap to do this so let’s hope it makes a big difference, or even a little one. And maybe to a few other people than just me. Love Mary
Dear Mary… It’s a big bag you’ve been dragging around and the what if’s are compounding in there and getting heavier. Whatever you did, it’s part of something else. It’s the new year and time to eschew guilt. Forgive yourself. There’s the rest of your days ahead. A very big hug.
Thanks Audrey, I never thought I’d really feel supported by the online ‘community’ but here you are. And I do. Thanks, again, Mary
Oh Mary, what pain and guilt we carry with us throughout our lives! Oh, how I relate to what you have written. I have spent years ridding myself of my guilt over many things and I’ve come such a long way, but a week ago when my daughter was having a crisis over one of her daughters, she yelled at me because she thought I had failed her in some aspects of her young life. Is this news? No, not really but it did throw me. None of us are perfect and I have to admit to much more wisdom now than 20+ years ago … as you well know from what YOU have written here.
Time to forgive yourself methinks! Forgive yourself for being human, and young and not knowing what was about to happen to your father. How could you know at the time? You could not. Of course, we feel guilty but there comes a time when we should not be filled with SHAME because of it. It doesn’t define who you are! We feel guilt about what we DO (or don’t do); we feel SHAME because we think we’re fundamentally flawed as a person because of it. Don’t confuse the two. Ridding ourselves of shame involves loving and accepting the person who we were at the time. That’s the letting go and forging ourselves. All the best and love from … Tess xx
Dear Tess, thank you for this, which brought tears to my eyes. I had a feeling you would know how I felt. I’m especially grateful to you for raising the distinction between shame and guilt – not something I had thought about and which is really quite an important one. I see people my own age still blaming their parents for failures in their lives and think it’s sad, but perhaps still blaming ourselves for failures in our parents’ lives – or our own failings associated with them – is just as sad. Certainly it changes nothing. I finally did this one because of what is happening across the ocean, hoping to be, if anything, a little spark of reassurance at a difficult time, but I’m hoping it has also taken me a step further to accepting – and if nothing else it has made me realise how supportive online friends can be. Thank you again – and love from Mary x
Thanks so much Mary … you explained yourself beautifully. My daughter and I are fine now too. I am sure it will take you a step closer to acceptance. I think I’ll have to live to a ripe old age so I can enjoy the acceptance of myself that age has given me!! All the best Mary. Love Tess xx
Glad to hear you are patched up! We do lash out at those nearest sometimes – I always think of my mother who used to mutter, when someone criticised or got angry at her, ‘that’s right, kick the cat’ – when I find myself muttering it I know it’s time for me to shake myself up! Thanks again for reading and for your thoughtful insights, Mxx
Lou, He has a kind nature. He’s the kindest, gentlest person I’ve ever known. When we visited the nursing home yesterday he made sure a lost resident found her way to a musical event. He answered a phone call which was from a daughter looking for her elderly mother and kept getting the wrong room. He walked the halls looking for the mother’s name on the door. (Later he met the daughter and she gave him a big hug!) Upon leaving we were outside on the curb and he ran back to help an elder in a wheelchair get into the building. He won’t even discipline our cat Elvis when he wakes us up at 4:30 in the morning!
He has said that his grandfather, the evangelist, was the kindest person he ever knew. He spent some time with him and traveled to camp meetings across the country. He was a great influence.
There are moments of frustration, but he is well grounded. We appreciate your kind words. It’s hard to be on the front lines, but maybe it’s harder to be far away?
Much love, Thel
Dear Thel, his brother was very influenced by the evangelist too (his DIY skills for example which are coming in very useful at the moment!) and I am sad I never met him. I found a picture last year as we were preparing to move house which really made me feel how big a character he was, not just in physical size, his personality still lived on at least a bit in the black and white image. Did you know his wife gave me a turquoise ring which she said was his? Very plain and a bit worn – and lovely. I wear it often. I’m interested in that description of him as being so ‘kind’ – it’s an under-appreciated quality.I find unkindness hard to tolerate, needlessly hurtful. But as for yours, yes, he’s a lovely, thoughtful man – I think I have one a bit like that too. Thank goodness we don’t have an Elvis, he’s an early enough riser as it is! Anyway, just to let you know you’re both very often in our thoughts. Love, Lou x
Don’t blame yourself or allow others to do it for you. You can never predict what is going to happen next. Your father probably went at the right time, but I’m sure it was all very hard for your mother.
Ha, so true Charlie! Thanks for reading – and getting it out helps stop me keeping it in!
oh, if you did the best, your best, at that time, you’ve nothing to be ashamed of… you may feel guilty, every now and then, but should you be? we always wish we could have done better when the situation’s tight. on the other hand, that might have been the best, under the circumstances. uh,uh, am i making sense? 🙂 hope you are feeling better. death is always a hard thing, during and even after… warm regards. 🙂
Do we ever do our best? I suppose I know I didn’t, hence the guilt, but writing this has actually helped. But yes, it may have been for the best after all, who knows, now? Kind people saying supportive things helps 🙂 Mx