Our assembly was always one of laughter and togetherness. We are the type of family that faced every challenge together. When my father died, that day, everything went silent. The laughter stopped, my sister withdrew, I became the matriarch. As my mother moved in with me, I could feel her confusion but I couldn't always see it. Trauma has a way of igniting more problems and chaos.
I didn't cry when my husband left, it was a relief, though sad to say. Sometimes, emotional abuse makes you numb, in my case, it allowed me to push forward with all that I had to accomplish for my family that loves me. Often the hardest parts of life come in a storm so that we can occupy ourselves in treading the present rather than drown ourselves in the memory of quilt or resentment.
I didn't cry when a new job was overwhelming. People are not forgiving of your grief or happenstance. There was never a moment when anyone asked me what I was going through. I've heard it said "check on your friends that smile the most for often they are the ones going through the worst." Empathy and understanding are NOT the same thing.
I learned to compartmentalize every part of my life. Moment to moment, feeling to feeling. There was no more "me" in the present, now there is only "we" and I will go where I am needed most.
I didn't cry when they diagnosed you with Lewy Body Dementia. I didn't cry when I had to take over your finances, take away your car, or try to understand what is happening to you, the strong and wonderful woman I knew, because you are still here. I can see you. I see you. After all, it isn't a death sentence. The changes happen so quietly. Why didn't I know that it wasn't a temporary transformation but rather a permanent condition? I knew you so well. I did know you so well.
It makes sense now why you barely cried when dad died, I thought you were just being your same, strong self. Maybe it never fully processed, maybe you are numb now like me. You always were a bit of a mystery, now I understand that you stayed that way for us. It makes sense now why you couldn't manage your finances or why you couldn't help me find a new house for us to live in. I wish you could have been there for me during my divorce. I am just happy now you were there for my wedding. I could use your opinion sometimes about doctors for biopsies and how to afford fixing things around the house but, it's ok, I will learn.
I enjoy watching our shows together. Every once in awhile you stop your quiet moaning and laugh, and I see you. Occasionally, you ask your grandson for a hug, drawing your pretty, aged fingers through his blonde locks, your eyes light up and you are there. I wish our conversations weren't always about aches and medication but, sometimes you still listen to me complain about my work day, and celebrity crushes, and dreams of owning a bookstore... when you just listen, I see you.
I don't know who we are today. It's all been such a whirlwind storm of uncertainty and anxiety. We used to celebrate the big victories; graduations, marriages, pregnancies, new homes with parties or champagne, now we celebrate weekly showers or good doctors' reports. I never imagined that growing would look this way. The fairy tale plans that you allowed my innocence to rely on now don't look as whimsy as you painted them to be. As a younger woman, I wanted to be you. I never imagined I WOULD be you, quite literally. You never told me that I would make your meals and clean your room. You never said that I would spend my days off in doctor's offices or making appointments, sorting pills and washing your hair. We never had a conversation about how to feel secure making choices for other people on your own, or how to not feel so alone as a single, middle aged waitress trying to care for a home, a nephew, a mother with LBD, finances during a pandemic, with her own wants and needs that don't even have a place in this situation. We never had that talk.
We never talk about how much you miss dad. You are too strong and I am am too weak to talk about him. We both lost someone we love, but you loved him so much longer. I HATE your loneliness. You're NOT alone. I see you.
We'll never have a talk about my fear of losing you. Completely. I'm so busy grieving who you once were, trying to embrace who you are now, and trying to find who I am that I'll never mention how I'm going to pay for your departure. I'll never talk to you about how you forgot Christmas for a minute or how you might not remember birthdays anymore. We'll never talk about how scared I am or how the word "safe" has left my vocabulary completely and how some nights I just lay in bed praying for someone or something to make me feel that way again because, I'm sure you are scared, and alone, and unsure and we will just do this together. We do everything together, this family.
We are changing. I'm learning, not by will but by willingness. I pray most days that we can just stop and stay right here because I don't know what's in store for us in the future. I see you stuck in that place. I don't know where you are sometimes but, I can see you, selfish as it seems, I just want to keep seeing you. We are still that family that does it all together. We are still laughing. Not as often or as carefree but, we are living in each moment, hoping to be allowed another, and hopefully more. We will change, and that is ok, because we will change together. Always.