My Dad Needs a Better Son or Daughter
April 19, 2011 4:46 PM Subscribe
There will soon be a death in my family. I'm worried this one's going to be especially hard and I'm not sure what to do.
posted by EatTheWeak to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey everyone -
So, yeah, my grandmother won't be with us much longer. Her health problems are colliding with each other in some untreatable ways and she's succumbing quickly. Some days are better than others, but it honestly looks like it's just a matter of time. I'm of course very sad and worried about this, but the person I'm most worried about right now is her son - my father.
We're not what you call a very emotionally close or open family. I've seen / heard my father cry exactly twice - once on the phone last week while we were talking about Grandma and once years before that, when he broke up a bit while giving his father's eulogy. The run up to Grandpa dying was much slower and we were more or less expecting it when it happened. Grandma has deteriorated much more quickly and I think it's hitting him pretty hard. He hasn't said much about it but I can tell he wants to say something, if that makes sense.
There's a lot of tension and partial estrangement in our family is the thing. My father and I have had a very rocky relationship and conversation never comes easily for the two of us. We've been doing a bit better over the last few years, but we're still very poor at communicating and our personal politics could hardly be any more different. We've kind of adopted a "don't talk a bunch so we don't wind up arguing" approach to things, which has kept the peace but hasn't really helped us connect. Oh, also: my Dad once confided in me that he struggled with anxiety and depression, just like his father, just like my uncles, just like, well, me. A few months later, when I mentioned this to him, he wouldn't acknowledge that the conversation happened. There's a lotta one step forward, two steps back kinda stuff like this in our relationship. My father also has difficult relationships with his siblings, my aunt and uncles - there's a lot of unresolved resentment and tension there (kind of a family tradition, I guess) and it doesn't sound like he's getting much support from them as he arranges things for Grandma.
I'm posting this here because I want to be there for my father but I'm not exactly sure how. We're not very open with each other but I love him and can tell that he's hurting even if he won't tell me about it. And maybe he doesn't want to tell me about it and I don't want to push him - I'm just not sure. Last time we spoke, when he cried, I didn't know what to say or do. Anything that it occurred to me to say sounded stupid and obvious and pointless or like the kind of thing that would make him feel worse. I felt utterly lost. I can't remember who did it now, but eventually someone cracked a joke and we chuckled our way out of the awkwardness. (this, also, is pretty standard procedure for us) I can't help feeling like I let him down there. Like that was an occasion I should have risen to. I'm his eldest son - eldest among this generation, even. My cousins are much too young, my brothers much too embroiled in their very demanding jobs. I feel like I ought to step up here, like it's time - but I'm not exactly sure what that's gonna mean. My Dad's usually the one to handle the tough stuff among his siblings, but I'm not sure who is looking out for him right now. He and my mother are still together but that relationship is, yeah, you guessed it, pretty strained and difficult due to years of unspoken tension and the like.
The other degree of difficulty is that I live seven hours away and am in my final quarter of college, making it fairly difficult to just pop over there and be with everyone like I'd like to.
I realize this is a pretty broad question, but I'm hoping the hive mind might have some advice for me on how to handle this situation. I can't be the only person to have a disconnected family like this, or to be unsure of how my role in such a family might be about to change. What have you done when someone you loved was hurting but neither of you knew how to deal with that? I can't be the only person related to a stoic. I really feel like he needs me right now, but I'm not sure what he needs me to be doing. And I feel pretty useless trying to do anything from this distance. There's a lot that's gone unsaid and unaddressed in my family for a long, long time and I've got this terrible feeling that a bunch of it could burst loose in a very destructive way with my Grandma's passing if we're not careful.
Shit, AskMe, I don't know what to do at all.
Do you have any ideas?