Wishful Thinking – By Laura Houston
It was time to write something light and funny, so I started out last week’s blog with a story about my son Wyatt and his peculiar antics on the playground. Then I received a phone call about my father, and I did not finish my writing. It seems my Dad took a turn for the worst. He has Parkinson’s disease, and he is still living with my mother who is challenged as a caregiver. If he is sleeping, she takes it as a chance to get stuff done. Without thinking about it, she has left him in bed without food or water for more than 14 hours at a go, assuming that if all is quiet, all is well.
Times like this call for compassion and understanding. It’s an opportunity to practice patience, grace, detachment and balance, but for someone like me, that’s not easy because I have little of those four things. Fortunately, along with the pain that comes with family issues centered on the end of life, so also come a few meaningful, life-changing insights. As I watched my family dynamic unfold from 1,000 miles away, I recognized something in my sister that was disquieting for me to acknowledge. After years of pooh-poohing her outrage over what was fair and what wasn’t, I had an epiphany: Julie has been right all along.
I have not always gotten along with my younger sister Julie. We were exceptionally close in elementary school, but by the time junior high and high school rolled around, we seemed to be at odds most of the time. Julie was the “justice officer” in our family. She pointed out when my younger brother was getting away with things, and she gave my mother a tongue lashing for ignoring it. She vocalized our mother’s failures and neglect, and she protested loudly as she witnessed things that were dysfunctional, dishonest, inequitable and unjust.
As a teenager, I thought she was a goody-goody. A nark. A nag. A plague upon my devious endeavors. Julie thwarted my efforts to have fun, called out my lies to my mother, and wouldn’t allow me access to her closet full of cool clothes without first asking. My brothers and I had a free pass from my mother to go through our teens without any accountability, and we tried to make the most of it. I would have taken full advantage of it, too, if it weren’t for that pesky sister of mine.
But now here we are trying to get my Dad help, and I find myself extremely appreciative of my sister and her ability to exercise control over an unjust situation. Julie goes to my dad’s doctor appointments so she can take notes and gain understanding of what needs to happen for my father in order for him to feel comfortable in the state he is in. She writes up action item lists for family members so that we can all participate in getting him and my mother help. She’s bossy. She’s vocal. She carps. She does what she did in high school only now she does it with greater effect. And to my father’s benefit.
Through all of this, she continues to put up with the sharp criticism and resistance she endured as a teenager. She sees an injustice. She wants everyone to take action to obliterate it. But it’s hard to break out of family roles. It’s hard to be seen differently. But thanks to my friend Kate who pointed out to me this situation was not benefiting my sister in anyway other than to ensure my father’s well being, I had that big epiphany, and I saw my sister in a different light. Julie is making what is left of my dad’s life a little better. She’s honoring her family. She’s taking care of her people, and she’s doing with the same persistence that got her straight As in high school. And this is a good thing. She’s doing what she does best, and it’s time she gets some acknowledgement and appreciation for it. Especially from me.
There’s something very comforting and calming about having an epiphany in the middle of a crisis. Feelings that have been holding on to our hearts for years can finally relax, release their grip, open up their hands to the sky, and go floating down the river ready for something new. It leaves a free place in the soul where new things can attach. Good things. Good things such as understanding, patience and wisdom.
As we grow older, so many times we lose the tools that allow us to fix our unhappiness. We love to hold on to hurt and anger from the past far more tightly than we need to. And to be fair, they have their place in our lives. They are important. They protect us. Unfortunately, they also have the ability to eventually grip us so tightly that they squeeze the joy and lightness from our lives and our relationships. They cloud what is important.
So amid the sorrow and frustrations of trying to work through family issues to get my dad some help, I got a little relief along the way. And now I hope my sister does, too. Because valuing justice, honesty, accountability and family is a noble thing. And whereas graceful execution is important, nothing should mask the strength of character one has to possess such ideals. For my father I wish comfort, happiness, dignity, contentment and an easy exit from this world. For my sister I wish nothing. She already has everything a soul needs to live and leave a good life.