Monday, October 10, 2005

Preferring one child over another

This weekend, I went out with one of my friends from home and her husband, who were visiting my town for business. While sitting in this really cool Sony concept store watching an HD special on the wildlife of Texas, we started talking a little about our dead friend. More specifically, his parents. For the sake of ease of discussion, let's call my alive friend from home "Caroline" and my dead friend from home "Jim."

Caroline's mother and Jim's mother used to be close, close friends. Jim's mom was always a little bit bizarre, but she was good-hearted and manageable. My mom was never buddy-buddy with her, but they were friendly enough. Jim's mom's bizarroness would usually manifest itself in work trouble. Despite being an RN, she has had a really hard time keeping and thriving in a job. Even before my friend died.

After Jim died, his mom went wacko, which is entirely understandable, but talking to her is very frustrating for me, for Caroline, and for our mothers. After about three years, we finally started to see some kind of outward improvement in his parents, but my mom got really frustrated with the endless wallowing in grief. Everyone processes differently, but she and I firmly believe that the best way to get through it is to at least make an attempt to lead a normal life, even if it's hard, even if it seems impossible. You will not lead a normal life ever again, but with practice, you can approximate something close. You really need that practice, though.

Caroline and I were telling each other during our visit that our moms don't like to return Jim's mother's calls. My mom has a low tolerance for annoying people, but Caroline's mom is not like that at all! The other thing that really bothers our mothers is how Jim's mom treats Jim's younger brother. She doesn't treat him very well at all. I am not sure how this manifests itself, and I suspect it doesn't manifest itself in the material things, but in emotional support and attitude. His younger brother ("Rick") is (was?) six years younger than Jim, so as a result, I didn't really get to know him that well. He was 12 when Jim and I went off to college. When Jim died, Caroline said, "You know, Jim really was their favorite. They love Rick and all, but Jim was the Golden Child." Rick has a lot of physical similarities to his older brother- tall, thin, same deep voice, same hand gestures. I still don't know Rick that well (he is now a senior in college), but he seems to be more grounded in reality than his older brother, who lived for art. Rick likes history, and was an athlete in high school (until he quit to do theatre b/c he hated the coach...).

Soon after Jim died, his mother was showing me a purple beaded dress she had gotten from a closeout sale of a local department store. She said that she had bought it thinking it would be a mother-of-the-bride dress, since she chose not to see that her son was nowhere near engagement with his girlfriend (who also died in the accident). She said to me sadly, "I guess I'll never wear it now" as if Rick did not even exist! I reminded her that she still had Rick, and that someday he would get married and have kids.

At the time, I had chalked it up to grief. She said a lot of strange things during that first week, including wishing that they had collected some sperm from Jim's testicles so they could have paid someone to have his child. (I'm sure she was hoping I would volunteer, but NO WAY. NO WAY!) I thought this was insane on a number of different levels- first, Jim would not have wanted that. Maybe if he had a wife who really wanted kids, he would have been cool with it, but he didn't. Second, Jim would not have wanted his parents to raise his child. They were good parents to him, but so weird.

So I thought that totally forgetting about the possibility that Rick would get married and have kids one day was just grief talking. I also thought that with Jim, he had just graduated from college, he was dating this really nice girl that he was crazy about, was starting his "adult" life, so the prospect of a daughter (finally!!) plus grandchildren (hopefully granddaughters!!) was so close in her mind that she could taste it, but the world stole it from her.

Meanwhile, Rick was just starting his senior year in high school. It would be another six or seven years, minimum, before he could conceivably get married, and add a few years onto that for grandchildren. I had assumed that his mother was thinking like a 4 year old in July. Christmas is so far away in July that the 4 year old thinks it will never get here.

I'm starting to think that that remark is part of a more of a pernicious pattern that may have unearthed with the burial of my friend. Jim's mom has always wanted a daughter, and you could tell that she just longed for one. Perhaps she has always nursed a small resentment towards Rick for not being the girl she so desperately wanted. When Jim died, perhaps that resentment grew even larger because Rick wasn't Jim, and Rick was the one that wasn't dead.

So here's a little note to Rick, who will probably never read this, since only a couple of my RL friends know about this blog.

Dear Rick:

I don't know you very well, and in some ways that is good. I am sure that, like so many other people, I would be hoping in some way that you would fill the void left by your older brother. When I see you, I can't help but be reminded of him. For me, it's actually kind of nice because it makes the world a little less empty for me, but it seems like it pains your parents. This is not your fault.

I do know that you are a bright young man striving to make his way in the world, a task made harder for you by your parents and grandparents. I think, in the long run, you are choosing wisely by spending as much time away from them as possible. You may also think that you are imagining any less-than-terrific attitude towards you, and you also may be trying to be charitable with your parents and grandparents. Believe me, if my mom and Caroline's mom says that your mom seems to be reflecting a bad attitude towards you, I'm sure that is the case. Since you were significantly younger than your brother, you may have never noticed any kind of sibling rivalry. I know that I hardly ever heard about you from your brother, which you should interpret as a good thing. As a fellow older sibling, I can tell you when we talk about our siblings, it is usually to complain about them. Your brother loved you, and never felt any need to compete with you, so you may be surprised to find that you are in competition with him now.

Unfortunately, this is not a competition that you can win. Since Jim was enamoured with architecture, he had more resonance with your mother and grandfather, who also love art and construction. This is also not your fault, and you should not worry about changing your interests to suit theirs. In addition, he has achieved the exalted status of the departed. Most people choose to forget the flaws of their loved ones, and instead focus on their own flaws which caused the relationship to be less than what they wanted, or on the abrupt end of the relationship.

I do not forget his flaws though, and I think that was because he was so dear to me, and I had no regrets about our relationship. It was ended too soon, but, as I told your grandfather in a flash of wisdom that I can't believe I had, "No matter how long we had him, it wouldn't have been enough." I am sure that you have flaws, but I also know that, like your brother, you have had some very close, dear friends in your life. One of them wrote me a lengthy letter after hearing my eulogy because it reminded her of how much she cared about you. The closest dearest friends will see your flaws and love you anyway, as I did with your brother. If your parents cannot do this, then you should seek that love elsewhere.

Try to stay on good terms with your parents and grandparents, since you are literally all they have left. Try to see their flaws and love them anyway, even though you should work to protect yourself first. This may mean living far away from them, limiting contact, sheltering your future wife from your mother (who, even on her best days prior to Jim's death, would have made a hideous controlling mother-in-law!). Your parents are not the most positive people. Try to surround yourself with people who are.

Most of all, don't feel badly about yourself. You are who you are, not your brother, and certainly not some poor imitation. I wish you all the best, and more.

Much Love,
Queen Bee

1 comment:

Yankee T said...

This is beautiful. I wish there were some way for him to feel what you are saying.