Monday, September 15, 2008

Diving headfirst into the abyss

When my mom first died, when people asked, I would tell them that I felt like my heart was held together with duct tape and glue. But it wasn't just my heart -- it was everything -- my entire family. And over the past few months, it's often seemed like my whole family has been slowly unraveling in about a thousand different ways.

The best example of this is the communication. In the past, my mother was the hub, and we were all just spokes. Sure, I would talk to my brother a couple of times a month, to my Nana when the mood struck, and to my dad and sister whenever they picked up the phone -- but I talked to my mom almost every day. All urgent messages to or from any of the others were passed through her. Now, I have to call my dad, my brother, my sister, and my Nana -- and occasionally, my aunts and uncles, too -- because if I don't, there's a total communication breakdown.

For me, personally, the worst part is that I've started to worry about my Nana, my dad, and my siblings in ways that I never did before -- because before, if there was a problem, my mom would take care of it. Now, if something happens, I have no idea who would fix it.

All of this is just the set-up, the backdrop. The real story is that my sister, whom I love dearly, is kind of a trainwreck. She doesn't think things through, she has no focus or plan, and she oscillates between being completely, carelessly impetuous, and impervously intractable. In other words, she does whatever she wants without fear of consequence, and is often frustrated by the results, but unwilling or unable to do anything to make it better. And when you call her on it, she either cries or stops talking to you.

In shorthand, I usually accuse her of being "immature and irresponsible," and she usually deflects it by genuinely believing that it's just me being type A. But whatever words you use to describe it, the behavior has gotten her into some pretty bad situations -- the most recent of which is pretty majorly horrible.

As a result, my dad is angry with her -- or maybe just frustrated. The problem is that she can't really tell, because he's not really talking to her. Instead, he just calls me and talks about his disappointment with her. And she complains about feeling alone and abandoned.

I keep referring to this as "the black hole." Because all light and matter gets sucked into the neverending abyss of us all sitting around worrying about how to fix my sister's problems. And the simple truth is that we can't do it -- it can't be done. The only one who can fix her is her.

So tonight, I broke the chain: I called her. And the first thing I did was ask her if she wanted me to be nice or if she wanted me to be honest, and I told her that, from that moment on, her choice was going to define our relationship.

Quite frankly, I was more than a little surprised when she chose honest.

And then, we had a really long conversation -- one that was a long time coming. I told her that I worry about her -- that I'm concerned. I told her that I question her maturity, her responsibility, and her decision-making -- and that I'm disappointed by her behavior. I told her that she needs to grow up and take responsibility for her own actions -- because no one can fix things for her anymore. Of course, I also said that I love her, and that I will be supportive of her.

On the plus side, I think this talk helped: She seemed to actually hear what I had to say, instead of just pretending to listen. And she promised to call me in a few days, which seems to indicate that she finally comprehends that there needs to be a give-and-take in our relationship. The downside is that this was precisely the conversation that she should have been having with my father. But I guess that she needs to work that one out for herself.


Anonymous said...

If there's one thing I know, it's that families are difficult. Oh boy are they ever difficult. But what you've done is fantastic. I hope your sister is ok and that she is inspired by your love for her and good advice to get things back on track.

Sara said...

It took me a long time to realize that I am not and can not be responsible for my brother (who has also made some really bad decisions). All we can do is tell them how we feel, hope for the best and love them anyway. Your sister is lucky to have your honesty and support.

Paige Jennifer said...

I hope this comes out the way I want it to sound (eek). But well done, Dara. Stepping up, intervening isn't easy. Especially when the act is selfless. You called your sister to help her and to ease burdens for your father. You might say, well it's family and that's what family does. I agree with that argument except most people don't live by it. And you are. So again, well done.

dara said...

talkingbudgie: It took me two weeks to get there, because at first I was angry that she could let things get that bad, and I knew that I couldn't tell her that without her shutting down or doing what she usually does, which is to cry "You don't understand because things are so much easier for you" (which is total crap, btw). But then, when I was less angry, it was easier. Anger clouds things.

Sara: I'm the oldest, so I've always felt a tad responsible for the younger two, but it's worse now with my mom being gone. On a logical level, I know that I can't fix her, and I can't fix things for her. But I love her anyway and that's what I wanted to say last night -- a version of "you're a knucklehead, but you're my knucklehead, and please stop being such a knucklehead."

PJ: It wasn't selfless: I want everyone to stop complaining to me about everyone else. She and my dad are having issues, but I don't want to be in the middle of it. It ruins my day.