Monday, October 16, 2006

Alone or Abandoned

My step-grandfather, Loren, passed away on Saturday night, with only one of his children present, and while she was sad, she also complained A LOT about all the work she would have to miss, and various other inconveniences that this would bring upon her.

His children were involved with the decision to take him off the machines, but that was it. Granted, they are not local, but my grandmother's reason for calling them was so they could say goodbye, and no one was interested. No one was interested. The whole situation is being treated by his kids as a horrible inconvenience.

They are annoyed at having their grandmother's health situation put on their plates because my grandmother has no desire to be involved. That poor woman's only living son moved to Florida upon being granted power of attorney over her accounts, abandoning her as an invalid without a nurse. Loren cared for his mother-in-law (MiL) because her own son wouldn't, and his motivations were largely financial. When it began to be clear that, at the very least, he was not going to be able to care for her for an extended period of time, my grandma packed up his MiL's things and brought them to her attorney because Loren's daughter was not interested in caring for her grandmother. "Too busy."

When folks bring up the idea of who will care for me when I'm elderly if I have no children, I wonder what would be worse — going through an illness alone, or going through an illness waiting for someone to care. I wonder how Loren's MiL must feel — her mind is alive, at some level, but her body has withered away. She knows her son has taken her money and abandoned her. She knows her grandchildren won't come see her. She will now know that the only person left in the world who cared about her anymore, whatever his motivation, is dead.

I'm not saying the idea of being alone isn't a concern. But I think it's silly to use that as a way to try to convince someone to have children, especially when I've seen families abandon each other more often than not. My grandmother was the only one of 10 living children who my great-grandmother remembered as Alzheimer's claimed her because she was the only one who saw her regularly. When she became ill, it was as if everyone wrote her off as already dead, resenting the money her nursing home drained from their own incomes.

Some people, like my Gramps or my friend's grandfather who recently passed, are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family who is there 'til the end. And it does give me sadness that I won't experience something like that. But to me it's like someone asking me if I'm sad that I'll never win a Clio award because I'm choosing to get out of high-buck advertising. If I decided to go back to an agency, sure there's the chance I could do great things and I could write an award-winning campaign. But it's a big "what if" that requires a sacrifice that I'm just not interested in making for my life, my marriage, and my happiness.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Two Barrels Between the Eyes

This is a post I made to my LiveJournal that I'm also posting here. To preface, my grandmother's second husband is dying. I learned this early this morning. We also joined my husband's maternal family for a dinner to mark the 10-year-anniversary of his mother's death. It has been a rough day.

I feel emotionally drained. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, just drained.

I've been drained from worrying about the whole situation, wondering how my grandmother is doing (she's unreachable at the hospital, and since he's in critical condition, only she is allowed to see him), wondering how my mom is doing.

A wise woman once told me that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I know why we had him in our lives: he helped my grandmother heal; he was a shoulder to cry on when her mother passed; he helped her realize that it was okay to move out of the house my Gramps built, that she didn't have to live in a tomb of memories; he told her she didn't have to be sad all the time, but it was okay to be sad sometimes; and he loved her. He loved her and gave her someone to love. Of course it wasn't what she had with my Gramps -- one couple in a million gets that chance -- but it was something. It was tender, and it was what she needed, and I think it helped her get past the death of my Gramps and told her that she would survive. What this will do to her, I don't know.

It's easier to rationalize when the death is expected, when there's suffering coming to an end. Death has meaning, then, at least a little. But he wasn't suffering. He had some chest pains and they did bypass surgery just to be sure. When he was under the knife, his kidneys began failing. But the heart surgery was successful! They healed his heart, but then there was the infection. The infection that spread to his blood and now has him on life support. He was fine, though, he wasn't in pain, he wasn't suffering, and now he's dying and I'm just not okay with that! This is perhaps the first death I've been close to that wasn't preceeded by a prolonged period of suffering and at least some sense of relief at the person's passing. This is the first time I'm angry at God. Or the Gods. Or whomever; I'm angry.

I'm angry because we can't tell my seven-year-old niece C that her grandpa (the only one she's known -- she was only 2 when my Gramps passed) isn't suffering anymore because she was just over there recently and he wasn't suffering. Or Breanna, my cousin, who gleefully started calling him "Grandpa" the moment he and my grandma married, which salted my wounds because he wasn't Grandpa. Gramps was. But she adores him. And instead of a "God wanted to end his suffering" explanation, which makes at least a bit of sense, we have to give these girls a "God just thought it was his time" speech, and I don't know if C is ready for that.

I just don't know how to reconcile this.

Then there was the dinner with A's grandma, aunt and uncle. We immediately toasted A's mother, which set her off crying (understandably so), but then, as if to say "your grace period is over!", there was baby talk.

The "grace period" is a period of one year that we were told we wouldn't be "bothered". What "bothered" meant was left up in the air, but it became clear tonight that "bothered" really means "pressure to procreate". Obviously, we can't debut the idea of being childfree as Lil is already so upset because of A's mother...

"What religion are you, anyway? You really should start going to church again. You know, when the kids come, you'll have to make up your mind how you're going to teach them about God."

"So A's going to finish school, then you can retire! ha ha ha."
... "Well, I'm planning on trying to start my own firm!"
To which, his uncle replied (and this is a direct quote): "No no, none of that, we need BABIES here!"

Oh, many a comment was made today about "our kids", about our "late start", etc. It made me sick.

How can we possibly tell these people "sorry, no kids for us"? It's really no wonder that so many people feel pressured to have children. It's an unreal amount of pressure. I've felt it in little jabs here and there, but tonight it was two barrels, right between the eyes, on an evening where I was already emotionally fragile. I'm sick to my stomach even thinking about it.

Not telling them is looking like a better option again. I seriously thought that because his aunt & uncle are childless (after infertility) that they might understand better. They both had high-powered careers and retired at 55, and I thought gee, maybe they'll understand why this is the life we want, but the pressure is on, and it is immense. But to think of going through this for years -- because, really, his grandmother is the one person we really don't feel we can tell, and it's not improbable that she will be around for another decade -- I don't know how to do it.

How do you break someone's heart?

And please, don't tell me that it's none of their business, and it's our lives. I'm well aware of this; if I didn't know this, I would consider having children to appease them and make it stop. I care about these people, I care about what they think, and I care -- I care a lot -- that we are viewed hopefully as the last chance to carry on his family's genes. The last chance to carry on Lil's beloved daughter's genes. That's a lot of fucking pressure. And I feel the pressure because I DO care what they think, and it DOES matter to me that they will be crushed if we tell them we're not having children. While the decision is ours to make, I do not believe it's none of their business. It's their hearts, their hopes; it's them that we will be hurting, and the hurt will be real, and that makes it their business.

So what do I do?
I have no answers.

And yes, it IS this big of a deal. Some of you who have chosen to be childfree have had an easier time of it -- your families are like my parents: they get it -- you have no idea how fortunate you are. To have families that understand and support (even if reluctantly) your decision... When that support is replaced by a constant message that if you don't have children you're going to be destroying someone's hopes and dreams (and I am not exaggerating -- you know this if you have met A's grandmother), it lives in your mind constantly. Every moment you spend talking to that part of the family becomes underscored with dread that the subject will come up again and you'll be forced to either lie or at the very least sugarcoat things. "We're not even thinking about that right now." "Oh, A has to finish school before we can start talking about kids."

If I had this pressure from my family as well, I honestly don't know how I could function.

And as a result, I feel sick, drained, and as if I could cry for an hour. I've been afraid of this grace period coming to an end, of the little here-and-there comments beginning to dominate dinner talk, but I had no idea how much it would hurt me when it did. The white lies to A's dad and his stepsiblings are easier, and it went over well when we started using the word "if" with them. It had me thinking that it wouldn't be that big a deal to start creeping the "if" word into conversations with his grandmother. I WAS WRONG. In her eyes, when she talks about "our kids", you can see it. The hope.

I wish I could say those conversations made me wonder if we're making a mistake deciding to remain childfree. I wish I could just say "you know what, maybe it wouldn't be so bad," but I can't. And a part of me wishes I had some maternal instinct to turn on to make this pain stop. But it's not there. It's not there because it's not ME. It's not US.

I really hope this is my fractured emotional state talking, that these dinners will get better, that we can approach a night with his maternal family without dread.

I don't like how I'm feeling right now. I want the pain to stop. I want to stop being angry at God or whatever for letting him die and leaving my grandma all alone. I want to stop feeling guilty for not wanting children. I just want the pain to stop.