I recently found myself having difficult discussions with my grown children about how they felt about my participation in the funeral of  their grandmother, my mother. I was asking them  if it was,  “OK”, would they think less of me, or would our relationship be affected, I stayed in the back of the room at the mortuary  only for short time and sat in the back at the church during the funeral. This allowed me to avoid having it to interact with my siblings and to minimize my involvement in my moms final resting ceremony.

Luckily they both agreed it was OK, but they didn’t really understand why and I know they wished I could just  go the funeral and morn like a normal ” family”.  But I was not raised in a “normal family” not even a dysfunctional family, I as raised in an abusive alcoholic family. One where I never even knew what love was until I left home and was in my 20’s. One where in my 30’s, when I stayed at friends house and she made sure I had snacks and my favorite tea, did I realize I didn’t even know much about kindness.

I was born when my mom  was in her mid 30’s, the youngest of four children. The things I remember being told about my birth include: being name me after the patron saint of hopeless causes, being the cause of her hysterectomy and  early onset of menopause and osteoarthritis, which kept he in pain her whole life.

I was mainly cared for by my older sister, who was 10 years older than I, another reason I never knew kindness, She too was growing up crazy alcoholic, violent environment,. one where my father was sent to sanatoriums and my mother beat the children with a metal fry pan, ironed my hand and stuck my fingers in a metal fan.

Maybe it was the stress of my father’s violent outbursts or the fact my brother followed in the my father’s footsteps by the time he was 15. He acted out, was drunk and violent.  He held a knife to my throat when I was10 (he was 25),  He threw a footstool though the living room window, threatening to kill my father and often physically fought with him. Once he even used the family shot gun to pinned my Dad down in the garage . The police often visited our home.  My oldest sister responded by becoming super religious and terrorizing me with super natural scare tactics and my other sister went in the closet and bite herself until she  would bleed. These are only a few of my childhood memories.  Remembrances that have left me with post traumatic stress syndrome , memories which haunt my nights, give me nightmares and creep into my daydreams if I’m not vigilant to stamp them out.

I was kid with special needs, crossed -eyed, hearing impaired and dyslexic. They treated the crossed eyed problem by bandaging my good eye and with surgery but never really treated the hearing problem soon enough so I have permanently hearing loss. Luckily the good Sisters of St Ursula helped with the dyslexia . The problems with seeing and hearing plagued most of my childhood and certainly made me a troublesome child to be around. Navigating this violent alcoholic family was difficult, but taught me a set of skills which helped in life; such as, persistence, reading people by there body language, salesmanship and facing fear.

As I was growing up I turned to my siblings for help and support since they were all older than I,  My bother 15 years, one sister 10 year and the other 7 years older. None of them were capable of providing the ‘parenting” I needed, nor the love or kindness. They did all attempt to “fix” me, which was more painful than  the reality I faced. though. They all escaped the household as soon as possible, as did I.

My brother has not been sober in my lifetime, my sisters subsist on psychotropic drugs and pain killers. I was the fortunate one, going though alcoholic rehabilatation 20 years ago and with the “Grace of God “I have remained sober on day at time since.

We all are divorced, some many more than once, Among our children there are more alcoholics ( two have joined the ranks of AA, most have not), drug addicts and mentally ill  than there are normal functioning children. The great grand kids are now starting to be born, I pray they have a better chance. I feel blessed that my children are among the non- addicts, college educated. and although their childhood was not perfect it was so much closer to “normal”. I have great hope for their children.

I have spent most of my life not doing what my mother did, if my mother would have handled a situation one way I chose the other. I read parenting books, attended classes and even worked for a organization which helped children affected by family breakdown to try to change the tide rather than be sucked up into it.

Many times in my adult years I attempted to establish relationship with my siblings each time it ended in a disaster,  drama and dysfunction that almost pulled me back into the land of addiction, unkindness and fear. Here is short list:

I attempted to intervene at different times when my niece and nephew were arrested for drinking and driving and being sent to jail to get them sent to mandatory rehabilitation instead. Neither got support form their parents. my siblings, to go to rehabilitation.  Both are now hopelessly lost to addiction and mental and physical illnesses, both are in their 40’s.

My attempts at intervention only lead to my siblings  striking out at me. the last time I went to my sister house she pushed alcoholic on me and told me that alcoholics could drink again without getting addicted (stinking thinking for sure). When I was beaten up by my ex husband  I reached out to my oldest sister who reacted by trying to get me committed to a mental institution for being “too upset” rather helping me.

When my mother was in her 80’s she called up one day old me she was moving into in a duplex she had sold to me a few years earlier. So I set about decorating it and fixing it up to her liking . When she was 88 she set the building on fire due to being on Oxycotton  ( a pain medication), lighting a candle and falling asleep. My son was living on the other side of the duplex at the time. Thank goodness neither of them were injured and the damage was not too severe. She resisted moving into assisted living but agreed to having a home health aid come in twice a week and visiting nurse weekly if I fixed the duplex and she moved back in.

Although this worried me I agreed, and added additional fire alarms and other safety devices..  After I had  done all of this, she then announced she would not allow the home health aid or nurse in the house. My three siblings supported her in this. Of course they did not have a son living in the building nor were they responsible for the building. Or was it because they didn’t want her to spend any money she had on home health aids?  This lead to a very difficult situation where I told her she could not stay in the duplex with out help. And vowed never to get involved with my siblings again.

So my siblings moved her to another apartment where it quickly became apparent she could not live on her own anymore and she moved into assisted living.  My mom died angry and mean, she even put provisions in her will to try to strike out at me after her death.

My fear at the funeral was again to be dragged into the drama—— “we are gong through moms things and dividing them up”  Or maybe we could repeat what happened when my Dad died. The priest gather all four children together and asked  if there were any special stories, good qualities etc he should include in his sermon at the funeral. All four of us sat there silently, no one willing to say no he was unkind, mean and violent. Then the priest said, “just tell me something you learned from your father”, Finally my sister spoke up and said I learned to be independent because he would never help you with you were in need. I suggested the bible reading, “A time for all things under heaven at the service”.

My father had finally quite drinking in his 70″s and seemed to try to make up for some of the pain he caused by bonding with his grand children, it was much to late for any of his children. But he continued to be cruel and would rarely  allow my mom to go anywhere alone. My mother seemed to go the other way, she bonded with her grandchilds in her 60’s and  70’s. But in her last decade she was mean to selected grandchildren and me.

Was is senility or influence from my siblings which caused this to happen in her last few years or was it just the her core essence showing through?

What would I have said to the priest if he had asked me what I learned from my mother? I would have said that kindness counts, that one needs to care for their children and stand up to bullies and not let children be harmed or abused or neglect by parents.

Alane Cunningham

Alane is the author of our Contemporary Retirement Section. She is retired from the University of Michigan and now lives with her husband in Florida. Her goal is to provide you with insight into life after retirement.

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Alane CunninghamEmpty Nesters50+ Anti-Aging Tips and Tricks,Ages and Stages,Family Relationships – Marriage RelationshipsI recently found myself having difficult discussions with my grown children about how they felt about my participation in the funeral of  their grandmother, my mother. I was asking them  if it was,  'OK', would they think less of me, or would our relationship be affected, I stayed in...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids