I grew up in a family with fuzzy, soft boundaries. With Daddy on out-of-town jobs most of my young childhood, emotional limits between my mother, sister, and I became either invisible or non-existent. I was so emotionally mashed into my mother and sister that I didn’t know where they stopped and I began. Maybe for a child that sort of close attachment is normal and healthy for a while, but it stayed with me too far into adulthood. In my mind, the three of us defined each other.
Change was always hard on the three of us. In the name of worry, we gossiped about each other. My sister and mother had a field day when I got a divorce. In the name of resentment, my sister and I joined together and labeled my mother as selfish when she looked to her own life or meddlesome when she peered too sharply into ours. In the name of concern, my mother and I talked about my sister’s weight issues. I think the three of us hated and enjoyed our talks. It was how we played the one-up games, who’s responsible, who’s not, who’s in-charge. My father sidestepped most of those games by being absent, silent or unaware. I never thought any of us could truly take care of ourselves, so in my mind, I became the self-appointed manager. Even into my adult life, I felt overly responsible for, and resentful of, the goings-on in my first family.
Daddy’s suicide threw me into a caretaking-frenzy. I was frightened my mother or sister would also choose suicide. I heard too many statistics of how suicide seems almost contagious in families. I spent a fortune in phone bills keeping up with everyone’s problems. Detachment wasn’t an option, or so I thought. I was scared of how guilty I would feel if something happened to one of them. Letting go meant I needed to face how powerless I was.
In the name of fear and concern, I called my sister and mother daily. I listened to their feelings and felt resentful for how occupied they were with themselves. If they asked, I usually told them I was doing fine. I wasn’t fine.
Over-concern is a pseudo-defense against being powerless; sometimes
caretaking is a way of hiding from grief. Detachment from another’s grief isn’t selfish or hateful. It’s necessary.