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Mom called tonight, to ask whether we could go to the coast soon, because she and Mitch (my stepdad) would like to meet us there.

I had to say "Mom, I don't know if you realize it, but Penny was deeply hurt by what you had to say about her not having children. What she heard you say was that she wasn't a worthwhile person because she hadn't had children before this cancer happened."

After her jaw finished dropping, of course, Mom was horrified. Yeah, well, I was too. I was caught in the middle of this.

Penny was raised by a family which never said anything straightforward, where any expression of emotion was a weapon to be wielded to punish those around ... and where any expression of self-confidence was to be quashed as thoroughly as possible. In other words, a codependent-abusive family.

Well, Mom was exposed to that kind of thing when she grew up as well, and her method of coping was to say "To hell with that, I'm going to say what I feel, and if it hurts you that I say it, too bad for you."

That's because she had her own abusive relatives - grandparents (religiously fanatic, as opposed to religiously enlightened - something fairly common in the 'late Pioneers' in Montana) and simply alcoholic (stepfather).

So (as I've reconstructed it) Mom was reacting to things with her mouth in gear and her feelings in gear but without her intellectual filters engaged.
I do this myself so often that I know far too well how it happened.
She realized that Penny wouldn't be able to have kids, and tried to make that fact tolerable by saying "well, but you never actually wanted them or you'd have tried harder to have them, right, so it's OK that you won't be able to."

That line of conversation once broached allowed further things to leak out that she wouldn't have said in a less emotionally raw time.

So now, she called me and I had to break her heart by saying "No, Mom, you won't be able to comfort and aid your most beloved daughter in law, because you screwed the pooch by accidentally stabbing her in the heart with your words earlier, and she's not going to be able to forgive it easily because she's busy dealing with having cancer, and doesn't have the emotional resources to cope with this."

And then afterwards I had to explain to my stepdad what happened... and he's a completely different guy, and a real sweetheart, but he's devastated that he won't be able to help as well. So I have to explain to him, "No, it's not that I won't want to see you and Mom. It's that tomorrow and Friday would be too soon, and the soonest would be next week, and Penny's too hurt to cope with it in that short a time, because she's got to use her energy to keep from losing it over the cancer."

And apparently my aunt Elaine (my uncle's widow, and the stepmother of my cousin Cherie who Penny and I were surrogate-parents to, every summer of her teenage life) has had endometrial cancer, and she wants to share her experiences with Penny...

And, Mitch's first wife had the same thing, and a year after her surgery they ended up divorcing (after 20 years of marriage) because somehow there was some emotional/mental stuff that didn't get handled. But he wants to offer Penny support as well.

I want to say "Folks, it's very nice of you to offer. I'll be glad to take advantage of it. Penny doesn't want to do so right now."

And I suppose I should take a page from Mom's book, since I learned it by heart, and say that anyway. Because it's not about them and what they need to do to feel like good people. It's not about them being allowed to help. At this moment, all that matters is that Penny takes strength from the places SHE wants to take it from. She's not going to make any bad choices.

Tomorrow we go to the beach.