So Confused and Conflicted. What to do?
December 24, 2021 1:07 PM   Subscribe

My dad has COVID. He's in the hospital right now. I also have it. We both got it from my unvaxxed brother. I'm so pissed at him. But I don't know what to do with all of the feelings. My brother was really upset, actually crying, last night. I don't want to make him feel worse than he does.

That's issue 1.

Issue 2 is that my dad was one of my abusers growing up. He made my life a living hell. Now I'm grappling with the fact that he might die (I know he will, but it's like a more likely thing right now). The thought of planning a funeral and standing there with people saying what a wonderful person he is. Just makes me sick.

I really don't even know what I'm asking. If anyone has any similar experiences maybe? What did you do? I'm keeping myself busy, and I'm seeing a huge uptick in my OCD like behaviors. I don't expect to hear back from my therapist until next week since it's Christmas Eve.
posted by kathrynm to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So sorry for all these tough feelings. My answers are cliched but helpful: first, put on your own oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself and get yourself feeling better from Covid.

Second, one day at a time. Don't start planning your dad's funeral before he's gone. If/when he does pass away, you don't have to tell people he was wonderful. If all of the planning is on you, you don't have to have a service if you don't want to. And especially being covid-times, you can use that as an excuse - we're not having a service; if you'd like to contribute in his honor, please give to XYZ.

If you need to get out some frustration, write or voice record a rant to your brother for being a selfish idiot. Give yourself some time to wallow in this pain you're feeling. Then move forward to caring for yourself. You deserve it.
posted by hydra77 at 1:19 PM on December 24, 2021 [51 favorites]

One of the things that's really challenging to accept is that you can feel multiple, sometimes conflicting, strong feelings about something at the same time. This sounds what's going on with you and I'm very sorry about that and I'm very sorry that you're in a situation where you and your father were infected from your brother.
If it helps, it's OK to feel hurt about the memories of the things that your dad did to you. It's also OK to feel sad that he is very ill. It's OK to feel angry at your brother for infecting you both. You can and should express your feelings, but that doesn't mean that you have to express them to your brother.
If your father dies from this and if you are at the funeral, what people say and feel is for themselves as well as you, but you don't have be their grief totem if you don't want to. And it's also OK to say, "my feelings are so strong right now, I just can't put them into words right now."
posted by plinth at 1:19 PM on December 24, 2021 [21 favorites]

My parents abused me, and other than getting one cremated I had nothing to do with their after-deaths. That’s an option if you like.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 1:41 PM on December 24, 2021 [21 favorites]

It sort of sounds like what you're asking is whether your feelings are normal and OK. So, I'd say "yes" they're normal and "yes" it's OK to have thoughts such as the ones you describe here - and to be deeply conflicted about your feelings.

Take care of yourself first. If your father was abusive, he ceded any right he might have had to expect you to be the dutiful child who plans and attends his funeral and says nice things about him to preserve or bolster his image after he's gone.

When your father passes -- hopefully not soon nor as a result of COVID -- you are not obligated to plan or attend a funeral if you do not want to, you are entitled to put your own feelings and well-being ahead of other people's desire to attend a service for your father.

I'm estranged from my mother, and I have no intention of attending -- and certainly no intention of planning -- her funeral when she passes. She is a narcissist who's always put her own needs ahead of her children, was verbally and physically abusive, etc. Doesn't mean I don't have any conflicted feelings about it, sometimes I remember good things about my mother and feel awful about not speaking to her. I know her friends and some of my relatives think I'm a terrible person for not talking to her.

I wouldn't go out of my way to comfort your brother, either. Infecting others with COVID was a predictable, and awful, result of his decision not to get vaccinated. We're about two years into this damn thing because of people like that. Hopefully your family will all recover from COVID and he'll have the opportunity to atone by getting vaccinated, boosted and wearing a mask, etc.
posted by jzb at 1:46 PM on December 24, 2021 [12 favorites]

So, that's a lot, and I just want to validate that it's natural to feel overwhelmed.

I can't speak to Covid or the sibling dynamics, but I have managed the illness and death of an abusive parent.

The most important thing to me was remembering that I didn't have to keep up appearances. Abusers are great at enforcing roles, and Dutiful Daughter is a big one.

I was free of that.

I only had to fulfill legal obligations, do what I could personally rest easy with, and do what I felt wouldn't unduly burden my sibling.

I didn't have to care what the world at large thought. Not anymore.

So we did a very simple cremation, a bare bones service where anyone could speak if they wished, and scattered the ashes. No big program, fancy reception, or whatever.

Maybe people tittered behind my back, but it wasn't my problem.

Then I got in the car the next morning, returned to my life, and healed.

I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by champers at 1:52 PM on December 24, 2021 [24 favorites]

#1 I would try to guilt him into getting vaccinated. But you don't have to forgive him.

#2 You can cremate him and plan a memorial service for "after the pandemic" or "later" and just... not get to it. My dad died in March, we didn't do a memorial service until July, nobody said a single word.

#3 You are an adult and you don't have to do shit for any of these people.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on December 24, 2021 [28 favorites]

First, you've got to look after yourself. Do you have anyone who can help you with managing your own quarantine? I know I would be very glad to be able to bring a friend with COVID anything they needed. Even someone who wasn't one of my closest people. Get in food and medication and rest rest rest.

Second, there's no need to torment your brother but I'd sure be saying, "oh, you're sorry you got family members sick? Show it by getting vaccinated once you're better!"

Third, you don't have to do a damn thing concerning your dad's funeral. Including attend. When my estranged relative died, I know his kids didn't do the planning and only one of them even went to the funeral.
posted by praemunire at 2:11 PM on December 24, 2021 [6 favorites]

First, none of your feelings are wrong. Absolutely none of them. Second, I feel like your brother is probably beating himself up way worse than you ever could. His guilt or role in this is not your responsibility to either police or magnify. Take it off your plate because what's done is done.

Finally, try to differentiate your feelings into which ones are authentic to you and which ones you feel like you SHOULD be feeling. Ditch the ones that you feel like you should be feeling. These always cause me more anxiety than my actual, authentic feelings. Do you have a partner or someone trusted who you can talk about your actual feelings who will not judge or try to make you feel differently because what you feel is what you feel.

As for your dad possibly dying, sit for a while with the notion and just note how you feel (again not how you think you're supposed to feel). Are you sad? Are you relieved? Are you a little of both? None are wrong or right. .They just are. Remember most of all, however, that you choose to let him live in your head and if you want to evict him, go for it. You owe him nothing given his past behavior and you do not need to change this mindset because he might be dying.

Wishing you peace.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 2:18 PM on December 24, 2021 [8 favorites]

It is a huge and complicated thing to manage your trauma in the face of this kind of situation, and you are 100% right (and okay!) to be conflicted and confused. Aside from whatever contributions you are obligated to make with regard to decisionmaking around your father's care, you don't actually owe him anything else. We didn't give my dad a funeral, no regrets.

It is very very kind of you to not want your brother to feel worse, but you are not obligated to hold or maintain that sentiment out of politeness or flight/freeze/fawn. Your brother chose this, and it is not your problem to manage his feelings. If you choose to not actively make him feel worse because you already have enough on your plate, that is excellent self-care. But feel free to tell him that you are not going to engage with him on this any further and to go find someone else to tell about it. Dump out, comfort in, and you get to be further in than him forever and permanently on this.

If you have a friend who can help you process and vent, please turn to them. If you need to vent to the void more or less, my MeMail is open and I'm not really celebrating a holiday and you're not going to ruin anything by telling me - I will never share a word of it, and I'm not going to judge you for even the grimmest or angriest thoughts. You can also just barf it all out as needed into a google doc or similar knowing you can delete it at any time.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:41 PM on December 24, 2021 [10 favorites]

You don't have to do anything. Care for yourself. Your brother is feeling bad because he chose to endanger his father. That's on him, nothing to do with you.

Separately, your thoughts about your father are your own, and you are free to do as little or as much as you like. You certainly don't need to go to any gathering for any reason if you don't want to. I was 6 when I first realised that the world would be a better place without my father in it. Sadly it had to suffer a further forty years, but it turned out I was right. His choices, not mine.
posted by tillsbury at 3:01 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Being ill is plenty. You can't go to the hospital, you have to quarantine. So, you don't have to see anyone and you are free to have a quiet and safe holiday. Let your brother take care of the funeral. Be good to you, including how you feel, feel. Rest, drink tea, watch dumb shows, meditate it away if that works for you. Stay off the pbone with your bro, say you have a sore throat. Get help if you feel you are gonna need it, get it before you are way too ill. Maybe it will be just enough of an illness to get you the privacy you need to heal. Be good to you in every way you can. Merry Christmas. !!☆☆☆
posted by Oyéah at 3:26 PM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

1. Your brother is learning an important lesson right now - that his actions have consequences for people other than himself. Harden your heart a little and let him cry, because he needs this lesson to sink in - hard. And frankly, telling him off will probably help that lesson sink in - this truly needs to be the worst time of his life, so that he can have the opportunity to grow and become a decent person who cares about others. He needs to understand just how terrible what he’s done is, and how much he’s hurt you.

2. You don’t have to have a funeral. My mom was emotionally abusive to me right up until the end. I just had her cremated and picked up the ashes and they sit in a closet. It’s been four years and I didn’t have a funeral and didn’t put an obituary in the paper and the more time that goes by, the more I feel like I did the right thing. Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean that the abuse didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean she’s suddenly not a terrible person. I see no reason that I should make myself suffer even more to “do the right thing” for someone who doesn’t exist anymore. It certainly won’t affect her now, so why bother? And if anyone gives you any shit about it, tell them they’re more than welcome to have a funeral, but you won’t be involved and you damn sure won’t be paying for it.

It’s your life. Do what’s best for you, because no one else will.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:21 PM on December 24, 2021 [23 favorites]

Your brother's choices made your dad sick, so dealing with all of the consequences is on your brother, not on you. His feels are not your problem. You need to be looking after you right now, not anybody else. Stay strong.
posted by flabdablet at 7:34 PM on December 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Your brother is living with the consequences of his actions. That’s on him to bear, not you. Your father and your reaction to him potentially dying? Feel however you feel and act exactly how you want. Your father has to live with the consequences of his actions and that’s also on him to bear, not you.

Feel sad that you didn’t have a different, better father and if that’s as far as your sorrow extends, and you feel nothing but relief when he goes, that’s an absolutely natural reaction. Your father has already left you with a massive burden of what he did to you, don’t add guilt to it as well.
posted by Jubey at 12:21 AM on December 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

The uptick in OCD-like behaviors is probably your body’s way of coping. Since you have a therapist, have you worked with them on developing other coping techniques before? Now is the time to deliberately engage with them. It might not completely stop your compulsions but it could help mitigate them and won’t hurt.

You are currently sick with a very scary disease, during a holiday when stress is free-floating everywhere, while a pandemic continues to put pressure on even healthy family dynamics, with relatives who disrespect you in different ways. Don’t for a second put yourself down for any negative feelings you have or imperfect choices you make right now. You are doing the best you can, and going by what you list in the question it sounds like your best is pretty damn good. Get your isolation plan in order and reach out to contacts for help with dropping off supplies. The hospital is responsible for your dad and will do everything it can - no actions you take right now will affect this.

Just try to keep your body and mind on an even keel until you can speak with your therapist and other members of your support system in a few days. Everything else can wait, and I’m saying this as a Jewish person who would be loathe to let a relative’s body go unburied for more than a couple days. Now is a time of special circumstances and exceptions to rules.
posted by Mizu at 4:21 AM on December 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

My abusive father is going to die soon, he's 95 and has dementia. I definitely won't be attending his funeral, if there is one. I cut off all contact several decades ago. Nevertheless, some part of me, some tiny part I didn't dwell on much, hoped that he would acknowledge that what he did to me was wrong and beg for my forgiveness before he died. Now with the dementia it definitely ain't gonna happen. You may be experiencing this disappointment too, if your father dies he won't ever regret how badly he hurt you. Like someone else above, I have no plans today, no people to see, so feel free to email me if you need another friend.
posted by mareli at 6:55 AM on December 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Confused and conflicted is absolutely the right way to feel right now. If you weren't confused and conflicted you would be using denial as a coping mechanism and either splitting black or splitting white.

Forgive your brother. The person most at risk of catching Covid and of getting a bad case was your brother. Growing up in an abusive household - even if he was not the target of any of the abuse - is excellent training for having poor decision making skills and having ethical blind spots.

One thing to consider is that you and your brother both have a lot of rage feelings towards your dad for the abuse. These feelings of rage mean that your brother may not have been able to feel protective enough of your dad to do what was necessary to limit transmission, and both of you may be feeling just a little bit like your dad is getting his just desserts. At the same time feeling rage towards you dad has been for many years entirely too dangerous a feeling, because it could have had consequences ranging from violence through misery with a side of abandonment and destitution. So feeling angry at your dad and not simultaneously dreadfully anxious takes a lot of practice. It's normal for anger to be smothered by fear and shame, with the fear and shame being stronger the more likely you are to be in contact with or have to deal with your dad, or deal with people that want you to deal with him without leaving you space to talk about the abuse, such as nurses or funeral directors.

Consider that if your dad dies of Covid your brother will have murdered him as retaliation for the abuse he did to you. That is one of very many ways to look at the situation, including that your brother may be more of a self entitled, harmful jerk than your father was, or that your father did indeed contribute to you when you were the child he was abusing. All sorts of unpalatable and mutually contradictory things are true. Without refuting all the others, leave space for which ever version of the truth is most supportive to your functioning right now. I love my father and I don't love my father are mutually true things because of the nature of love where small children love their caretakers no matter what they do, because of the reflex to cling for protection when they are dependent. You are no more responsible for that love than you are for being abused, or being vulnerable or for hating someone who abused you.

I suggest that you become too sick with covid to deal with any medical staff or funeral arrangements. Exaggerate your symptoms just enough to make people back off, but not worry about you enough to bother you. Take to your bed, with a stack of bad fiction, and cups of hot tea, and put yourself on a schedule of intensive self-care and self nurturing. Get light exercise, eat well on a schedule, isolate from people, but go out on your porch or open a window periodically to breathe fresh air. Basically overdo it on coddling and tending your own illness until some of the confused and conflicted feelings abate. Somebody should have done that back when the abuse was going on, so now is a good time for something so very overdue. You're sick with a life threatening illness. THAT is your best priority, not panic about your health of course, but gentle compassionate nursing.

You don't have to do anything. You don't have to answer the phone or visit the hospital or talk to your brother, or figure out which pair of pajamas should be sent in to the hospital or plan what to say at the eulogy. Because you are in crisis it feels like you should be doing things. What you should be doing is looking after your own emotional needs, accepting that this is a crisis - and that a crisis means your feelings are going to be really strong and unpleasant right now, but the crisis will peak and become an aftermath, and the feelings will abate and let you think and feel other more pleasant things. You can't stop thinking and feeling those things right now, but they will grow less strong and leave you room for other things.

What healthy activity would be most physically comforting right now? Crying jag? Hot shower? Comedy movies? It would help your immune system if you started thinking like that. You have Covid. Look after yourself so you can get well.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:33 AM on December 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just want to add that the abuse was me and me alone. He never did anything to my brothers. The brother that got us sick (B) is just one of those I'm healthy and I've heard various stories about the vaccine and I'm not going to bother.

I have spent the last couple hours cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom after baking a cake. B is coming for dinner mostly because I don't want to be alone on Christmas. I'm trying to get updates from the hospital but no one called yesterday or today yet despite asking. I know they're busy. But the not knowing is crazy making. When shit happens, I turn into a control freak (my coping mechanism) and there's nothing I can control about this situation. Except myself. I'm trying to control myself and not let myself feel anything.

Ivory, my cat who is very attached to my dad is alternating between wandering around meowing and hiding under the covers of my dad's bed. That upsets me too.

B and I are going to FaceTime with my other brother C (who have a severe case of covid before the vaccines were out) and his wife K.

Gotta go figure out how to cook this meat.

Thank you to everyone who chimed in. I have an appointment with my therapist for Monday afternoon.

Merry Christmas.
posted by kathrynm at 1:21 PM on December 25, 2021 [8 favorites]

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