Probably-needlessly-complicated-family-drama-filter.
November 23, 2009 5:37 PM   Subscribe

So my grandfather is really sick and I haven't seen him in four years. Up until I turned eleven or twelve, our relationship was great. After that, not so much. Long, sorry.

My family is split into two, distinct groups. There is my mother's side, that includes my sister and myself and my mom, obviously. We are a fucked little unit with a long and violent history of abuse (perpetrated by mom). The other side is everyone else, basically. My grandfather is sort of a prolific manwhore. He was no less than 14 children, the youngest of whom is 6, many by different mothers, and all of these people make up my family. His "main bitch," a woman named Bea, is his second wife. The children she had with him are the relatives I'm closest too. Complicated. In any case, the two sides of my family have never really mixed. My mother resents my grandfather's second wife and Bea has never really accepted my mother as a real part of her family. This is partly because my grandfather's first wife, my mother's mother, is crazy. My grandfather's first marriage was crazy abusive, unfaithful, and codependent and ended when my grandmother literally tried to kill him. So Bea doesn't really like my mom.

Part of my mother's abuse, aside from the hitting and emotional stuff, was a sort of intense forced isolation. No visits from friends, no after school activities of any kind, no playing outside, and only select visits from a few members of my extended family: my Aunt Julia, my Uncle Oscar, and my grandfather. The days when they would visit are the few from my childhood that I remember with any sort of fondness. My mother seemed happier, certainly less angry when they were around. Distracted.

Around age twelve, my sister and I began to realize how horrible our home life was and we began reaching out for help. This meant, for me, opening up for the first time to close friends and teachers and to the extended family I was closest too: Oscar and my grandfather. For my sister, this meant burning down our house. My sister's tactic worked better than mine. While my mom isolating us had worked to some extent to hide the abuse, my sister burning down the house pretty much put it all up in everyone's faces. My uncle and my grandfather and social workers could dismiss the things I told them as tough love, but they couldn't dismiss the absolute rage it would take for a 14 year-old girl to burn every single one of her earthly possessions.

My sister was taken away and put in a group home for "troubled girls" which against all odds worked spectacularly for her. It was a safe and supportive place and now she's a kick ass lady. I, however, was left behind alone with my mom, and while the physical abuse stopped once I gained a few inches on her, the emotional stuff never did. It was pretty obvious that something wasn't right and my cries for help became more and more desperate and self-destructive. My uncle believed me but encouraged me to try to work it out with my mother. My grandfather stopped coming over pretty much as soon as I started growing tits. I've always suspected he doesn't really understand the "point" of women he can't, for whatever reason, sleep with.

The years of abuse finally ended with my mother selling our house and moving back to Honduras the year I turned 18, leaving me alone in Boston with no money and no place to go. After 18 years of shit and then a very abrupt abandonment, I was scared and depressed and crazy. Oscar convinced Bea to let me stay for the summer in the apartment she shared with my grandfather. When she came back to the country with him, two months later, she told me I had to go. My grandfather had no opinion on the matter. The only relative I had left to turn to was my crazy ass grandmother. The one who tried to kill him. I lived with her for a year. The worst year of my life. For that entire year I never heard from anyone in my family but Oscar and my sister. My mom wouldn't talk to me, Bea didn't give a fuck, and neither did my grandfather. It took me four years to recover from all of that. I'm 23 now with friends who care about me and an awesome boyfriend and an apartment that I can pay for and that no one can make me leave and a job and school and I feel like I'm getting to be whole again.

So now my grandfather's sick. Really sick. He's had two strokes and apparently isn't breathing on his own. My uncle has asked me to go see him and I'm scared. And angry. I asked my grandfather to help me when I couldn't help myself and he turned away from me. I don't know that he's asked to see me or if he's even capable of doing so. There's a part of me that feels that I have to go in case "this is it," that I owe him that. I feel like not wanting to see him makes me a bad person. I'm afraid that if I don't go my relationship with my uncle would be ruined. I'm afraid that I'll go and I'll be surrounded by all of these people who don't consider me actual family and someone will say some shit and I'll feel scared, and lonely, and depressed all over again. Or I'll just freak out and their suspicions about me and my side of the family will be confirmed. I think I have to go but I can't make myself do it. I don't know how to deal with this and I'm don't even know what the right thing to do is. Advice from people with similarly fucked families would be nice. Thanks, metafilter.
posted by Tha Race Card to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you think that you will ever, EVER regret not going and saying your final goodbyes to your grandfather, fuck what your relatives might think and go.
posted by banannafish at 5:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Being kind to a dying person is a good thing. Not going to the bedside of someone who terrifies you is okay. You have a pass either way. I'm from a family with plenty of crazy, and I've learned that it doesn't rub off. Therapy helped a lot.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


It sounds like a bad idea to me. You give alot of good reasons why you shouldn't go. You don't owe these people anything and they don't expect anything of you. Don't set yourself up for an upsetting scene when there's no good reason to go.
posted by amethysts at 5:50 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I feel like not wanting to see him makes me a bad person.

It does not. Whatever you end up doing in this incredibly difficult situation, please know that.
posted by dersins at 5:52 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some people whose families are not seriously fucked are going to tell you to get over it and go see him. I come from one of those crazy families, have refused all contact with my abusive father for over twenty years. My advice is do whatever feels right to you. If you go, take a good friend with you. It might do you good to see this man who for so long had the power to hurt you reduced to a powerless sick old fool. Or it might not. Who knows.

I applaud you for getting your act together so well, so young.
posted by mareli at 5:56 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to put in a contrary point of view, your grandfather has 14 children, let alone grandchildren. It's not like he's going to die alone. You actually owe him nothing - you were a child, the obligation was entirely on his side, and the failure of duty here was his.

In your case it might be easiest to let him die and make your peace at his graveside but it really depends on how you will feel when he dies. I still miss one of my grandparents and regret the fact I couldn't get back to the US before he was buried; on the other hand, when another grandparent died we ran around the house singing "Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!"
posted by DarlingBri at 6:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm....

As far as fucked families go, mine is not that fucked. However, I have serious unresolved issues with some members of my family. One of them just died. However, I had made my own peace with that member some time ago. I would not say it was forgiveness. I would not say it was forgetting but somewhere in between. That person did apologize to me a few times but to really face down those issues would have required a massive undertaking and, frankly, I didn't want to put myself through that. It would not have left things happier. So, when people say that they compartmentalize and other people try to get them to drag everything out into the open, I have sympathies with the compartmentalizer and, in fact, think that that can often be the best thing to do.

Here's another thing, so now that that family member is dead, that leaves some issues with other people that do need to get resolved. I'm going to work on that. Abuse does not happen in a vacuum and frequently there is plenty of blame to go around. I have just started figuring out what I need from this other family member and I'm going to work on getting that resolved. I could not resolve this issue until that member died.

Now, that's my own issues, obviously, but here's some advice and you can see how it applies to your life. For one, you have your uncle. You feel like he wants you there. Can you talk to him about your fears? Tell him that you will go if it is important but tell him that you have unresolved issues with your grandfather. Tell him how grateful you were/are for his help when you were a kid but that you feel like your grandfather did not do all that he could and was, in fact, just another person who turned a blind eye to a kid. I bet your uncle will totally understand that and from this point forward because he knows the truth from you, he can be your ally. It may not be that important to your uncle, or it may be very important to him. But if you and he are going to have a truthful and good relationship, I think it is important that you lay this truth on him and ask him for his support. Then you have honesty there. That is a relationship worth resolving, I think.

How good is this boyfriend? Is he very supportive? Have you been together a long time? When things get hard can he be there for you, telling you how much he loves you and supports you? If so, bring him. Going through this family death really enabled me to look around and see the people who really loved me, who had the capacity to really love me and that was just so amazing and I'm blessed to know that. If you can and have the ability, bring him. Warn him ahead of time and let him know in no uncertain terms that he is on your team.

The issue about your grandfather.... if he is very sick, this may not be resolved. I mean, it's almost impossible, I think, to resolve neglect of children. You can think about whether he had the capacity to do anything due to his own abilities but you don't have to feel that that makes it okay. You can wonder if he had such an abusive, weird childhood that he just did not have the tools to be a better adult. But, don't feel sorry for him. You don't owe any adult who abandoned you anything. That's a realization that I have recently come to. I can do *nothing* to release someone from any guilt or anxiety or regrets they had about how they treated me when I was a child. But, for my own sanity, I can only be the best person and strongest person that I have the ability to be.

Know that you may not resolve anything by going to your grandfather's bedside. If you go, go with an open mind toward him. If you need to say something, say it. If you need to go so that you can be there for him to have the opportunity to say something to you, then do it. However, I think you have some issues to resolve with the people in your life who you do want in your life, your uncle. Your sister? This is an opportunity to, if you want, salvage, change, clear up those relationships. It can be a starting point.

And remember, life is for the living. Fuck those other "family" who may have suspicions about you or your family. At this point, they mean nothing to who you are and where you stand in life. You are living your life. Forward.

Also, if any of the above makes you feel panicky or sick and you can't handle it. Don't go. You could say any or none of this stuff in a sympathy card to your Uncle.
posted by amanda at 6:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


... and I don't even know what the right thing to do is.

The right thing to do is what your heart tells you to do. Fuck what other people/family will think/say. They haven't walked in your shoes. You owe them nothing.
posted by jrchaplin at 6:07 PM on November 23, 2009


If I were you, I'd say, fuck the old bastard, let him die alone. And I'd sleep like a baby. I mean, what's the upside to going to see him? Is there one? Will it accomplish anything but serve to rip off barely-healed scabs? Sure, you could earn Nobility Points. But last I checked, those were trading at a rate of 1:fuck-all. I'd keep him in my thoughts and/or prayers, and stay well away.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you want to go, if it will help you with closure or whatever, even if you just want to go to make your uncle happy, go.

Bring a close friend, who shall be instructed to not let go of your hand no matter what. You don't have to visit him and face your family and all those demons alone. You can bring support from your adult life.
posted by desuetude at 6:28 PM on November 23, 2009


It's for you, not him. If you need to see him before he dies, do it. If you don't, don't.

If you're on the fence, err on the side of going to see him.
posted by inturnaround at 6:29 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Go. See him. If for no other reason than you're better than he is - he ignored you when you needed help, but now that he's on the way out, you're not ignoring him.

Don't do it for him. Fuck him (and fuck the rest of your family. Jesus). Do it for you.
posted by notsnot at 6:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Take your boyfriend with you. This time you won't be alone.
posted by Sara Anne at 6:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


You have to do what you feel comfortable. Don't go if you really don't want to. When in a similar situation I chose to go... to be compassionate and show the world that compassion beats everything always. I felt like I was the better person for it, too. 15 years later, no regrets.

IF you do go... take your wonderful boyfriend with you. Do not go alone. I don't suggest you take him in to the room... as it might be family only... sounds like he's in intensive care if he's not breathing unassisted. But take someone with you to support you.

It's possible you'll regret not going, if you don't go. But it would not make you a bad person. Many people wouldn't go, if they were in the same situation.
posted by taff at 7:05 PM on November 23, 2009


I think that if you go you'll be doing it for your uncle Oscar and not for your grandfather and I think that's a perfectly fine way to look at it.
posted by fshgrl at 7:07 PM on November 23, 2009


It sounds like your Uncle Oscar has been one of the few people in your family who has been good to you, and he's the one asking you to go. Can you go not only for your uncle, but WITH your uncle? It may be that he's asking you to go see your grandfather because this has all been hard on him and he wants a family member to share the experience with.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:42 PM on November 23, 2009


It sounds to me like the only people who have been understanding, caring, respectful of you in this situation are your sister and your uncle. It sounds like your uncle wants you to go, but from the brief description, I can't imagine him not being able to understand your reluctance. Do what you feel is right for you. Let your sister and uncle know why you did it, and let that be the end of it.

There are people in my family who will not be receiving death bed visits from me. I'm ok with that.

Good luck, and good work breaking the cycle.
posted by orville sash at 8:00 PM on November 23, 2009


No advice but this is covered in the novel Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo...might be worth a read for some perspective.
posted by sully75 at 8:36 PM on November 23, 2009


When my abusive father died, 20 years since I'd last seen him, I had no regrets about not seeing him, only relief that he was gone.
You don't always have to say goodbye - whether or not YOU want to is YOUR choice, not that of society. Go with your gut.
posted by Billegible at 8:41 PM on November 23, 2009


Family is who you love, not who you are related to. You do not have to go.
posted by sageleaf at 9:12 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


You don't really owe anybody anything here, but going might be a nice gesture to your uncle, one of the very few who treated you well.
Who knows how conscious or not your grandfather will be when and if you arrive. But if it were me, I would not discount the value of being able to whisper into his ear all the things you might ever want to say to him. Death is very final, and even if he is not entirely there, and even if it opens up some emotional scabs, you deserve the opportunity to say what you have to say before he goes. If not, you might wind up needing to say it in therapy 10 years from now.
posted by BillBishop at 10:11 PM on November 23, 2009


I don't have any answers but two suggestion on how you might get more information to help you understand your options. First, it sounds as if one major component of your fears is the possible interactions with other family members. If you are considering a visit, see if your uncle can help arrange a time when no one else (except maybe your uncle if you think he would be good support and/or your boyfriend) will be in the room.

You might also want to talk to your uncle about your mixed feelings. His reaction will help you gauge what it would mean to your relationship with him if you go or don't go. Not that it should be the deciding factor for you but this conversation should let you test your assumption that it will ruin your relationship with him.
posted by metahawk at 11:19 PM on November 23, 2009


You don't owe him anything, and you are not a bad person for not wanting to see him. There's this bullshit notion of this sacred group of people who, just because of an accident of birth, can treat you like complete shit for your whole life and still deserve your loyalty and consideration. It's one of the reasons why familial abuse is so insidious, especially to a good person like you. If visiting him will bring you peace, then do it - but don't do it out of guilt or obligation. Just take those feelings as a reminder that you actually have a conscience; it sounds like that's more than you can say about your grandfather.
posted by granted at 1:44 AM on November 24, 2009


People are absolutely right to say that you should not feel guilty, no matter what you choose. But I know feelings aren't always rational (mine sure as hell aren't). So...

1) If you're worried that you might feel guilty, go, but make sure you are 100% in control of your experience:
-Bring your boyfriend. Hell, bring friends. If the hospital asks, they're your husband and siblings.
-Have your own means of transport. Dictate exactly when you will show up, and set a time when you plan to leave. Feel free to leave earlier, but don't stay a second later. Don't feel obligated to stay more than 15 minutes, if you don't want to.
-Consider making plans for after your visit. Get lunch with your friends, or go see a movie, or such. It will help you adhere to your leaving time, and hopefully give you a nice experience with which to buffer the hospital-visit unpleasantness.

2) If you're not worried that you'll feel guilty, don't go. Heck, if you want an exercise in not feeling guilty, don't go. You don't owe anything to your grandfather, or to your uncle. You owe yourself a chance to feel free.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:55 AM on November 24, 2009


Put yourself first here. Your health is most important. So do what's going to be best for you, not what would satisfy your family. If you decide not to go to protect your new-found sanity, and your relationship with your uncle deteriorates because of that, then it's not a relationship that was worth keeping at a deep level to begin with. Always keep in mind that you can find people who will love and support you as much as you do them, you just have to look a little and invest time in those people (and, speaking of which, the more time you spend on family that never considered how scared you were and made excuses for abuse, the less time you have to find warm, loving people who would never stand for abuse).
posted by lorrer at 10:41 AM on November 24, 2009


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