Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Other Family

My Aunt Marie died in 2009 from complications of diabetes. She was 50. My grandma found her dead in her house. 

Her youngest daughter, Emma, had started college two months earlier. Emma has always been difficult, well before her mother died: she has anxiety and depression and a temper and a mean streak. And my mom loves her. Oh, my mom loves her. Emma is her youngest sister's youngest daughter and my mother played a very large role in raising her. Emma is cruelest to those she loves and my mother is not an exception. I hate, sometimes, how she treats my mother (when Emma is good, you would never know that she can turn into such a monster) and I know that my mom flatly refuses to let Emma push her away. Emma is lucky to have my mom.

It's been hard for Emma -- it's been hard for all of us! -- to see Emma's dad dating again, even though it's healthy and normal and inevitable. He proposed to his current girlfriend at Christmastime; they plan on getting married at the end of the year.

Yesterday, the girlfriend -- Sue -- invited us all to his birthday party. Nobody really wanted to go. It's hard to be at that house. It's hard to see Sue cooking in Aunt Marie's kitchen. But we did. 

Sue is a widow herself. She has three grown children and eight sweet grandchildren. They're fine. It's just weird that they're there. They aren't supposed to be there. Aunt Marie is supposed to still be alive.

We're around the table, singing happy birthday. And these eight grandchildren turn into the von Trapp family, seriously. They sing, like, a 13 verse happy birthday song. What is this? We don't sing a 13 verse happy birthday song. I look at Emma. She flies out the door and onto the front lawn. By the time I catch up with her, she's sobbing. 

I'm hugging her and telling her that it's okay, it's okay to be sad and this situation sucks but we're going to make it through it. I'm crying and I'm holding her and I'm promising that it's going to be okay. And I look up and one of Sue's daughters is standing there. It was her oldest daughter, Cassie, who is in her late 30s and had expressed wanting to have a deep conversation with Emma earlier in the afternoon. (My mom tried to talk her out of it.)

Cassie's intentions are good but Emma is a bomb that I am trying to diffuse. What am I supposed to do? Initiate a group hug? At least she was smart enough to stand off to the side. At least she was smart enough to be quiet. She didn't interrupt. She was just there. Eventually, she spoke.

I tried to let Cassie say what she was going to say without Emma flying off the handle. Cassie's message was: I know. I'm going through the same thing. My dad is dead and he shouldn't be dead. My siblings and I are all still devastated. We're glad that our mom is moving on and that she has your father and that she's happy. Our mom is a huge pain in the ass. It's good that they have each other. But your mom is supposed to be here just like our dad is supposed to be here.

Emma ran off as soon as she calmed down. She only told Cassie "I know, I know. I'm okay." She didn't give her much. And I think Cassie was disappointed. She wanted a connection. And I tried to explain to her that Emma's difficult. That they probably aren't going to have a big, beautiful bonding moment. That it takes her a long time.

But the things that Cassie said to me, oh my goodness. I wish that Emma and Anna, her sister, would hear them. Sue's kids feel the exact same way that they feel. The things that Cassie said are identical to what Anna and Emma say and feel.

Sue's kids hated that they got engaged two days after Christmas. They think that it's ridiculous that they insist on getting married this year (as the youngest in their family and Anna are both getting married in the next few months). They acknowledge that their mom is a little nuts. That, sometimes, they see my uncle pick up one of the grandbabies and they cringe because it isn't their dad playing the role of grandpa. They would rather my uncle and Sue go off and get married on their own; the kids want no part in it. (My uncle and Sue are, of course, planning a wedding. Nobody wants to go.)

And either my uncle pretends that the situation with Sue's family is more placid than it really is or her kids are just more mature about handling the situation. Perhaps they just don't throw public fits. 

Either way: I wish that I could get Emma (and Anna) to understand that Sue's kids are on her team. Really. Really it sounds like they are. Emma and Anna like to vilify Sue but it isn't Sue. It's the situation. The situation sucks. They don't have to like it. But wouldn't it be nice to see Cassie at a party and be able to roll your eyes?

I wish I could explain that to Emma. I wish that I could make her understand. I will try, because that's all I can do and because I do think that it would be good for her to see that she isn't as alone as she perceives to be. 

She will only hear me if she wants to. She probably won't want to.

But I will try.       


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Oh that is a tough situation. I think it would be so hard to see a parent move on. I can't imagine going through that. It's good that Emma has your family to support her and love her through all of this...

Anonymous said...

It is a tough situation but Emma will keep behaving the way she does if everyone keeps running to her side to placate her every time. She manipulates all of you that way.

A said...

Interesting way to look at it. I've always viewed her awful behavior as her trying to push us away (which my mother refuses to let happen -- but she's always given us her blessing to duck out if Emma's too much for us) rather than manipulate us to stay. But... well, it doesn't seem implausible.

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