Complicated and complete.

Believe it or not, I don’t always want to be right. That might bring a chuckle forth from some of my closest friends, because I know it seems I think I have all the answers, amen and amen. But I wish I had been wrong about this one thing. I’ll get to that in just a little while.

In-law relationships are complicated even in the best circumstances. You have to build a relationship with another group of adults that are not from your family of origin, who have their own strengths and weaknesses, and who have their own peculiarities and opinions. When I met my ex-husband, we were kids, so none of us were already set in our ways (except for perhaps one of my sisters and one of my brothers – they had opinions about my choice of partner). His siblings were all younger, so I really only had to win over his parents. His dad was no problem. He was a live and let live guy most of the time, and he could see that Paul and I were pretty happy – first as friends and later as spouses. He never tried to drive me away. Paul’s mother, on the other hand, was kind of a raving maniac. She was different than any mom I’ve ever known. EVER. I don’t want to go into all of it, because she is still alive, but suffice it to say I wasn’t sad that I never had to deal with her again after Paul and I divorced. Paul’s dad has been dead since our son was three months old. His death was sudden and tragic, at only 46 years old. But when Paul and I divorced, his siblings and mother divorced me, too. After three decades of being related, I was suddenly a non-entity. I’ve never really understood it, but it was their choice, not mine.

When I married M, I had met one of her sisters and I think I met her brother. Her brother was standoffish, as was his wife, but M thought that was probably because they never really wanted to acknowledge that their baby sister was gay. My brothers weren’t too happy either, so I get it. The sister I hadn’t met, G, was in NYC. Once upon a time, she had been a performer and then a costumer on Broadway. By the time I came into the picture, she had been damaged by first losing so many friends in the AIDS crisis, and later by the things she saw and did during the aftermath of 9/11. She had helped to catalog and curate the many, many pieces of people’s lives left floating in the streets, as well as the pictures pinned up everywhere by loved ones looking for someone whose fate they didn’t know. She developed severe anxiety and became unable to work and handle the things one has to handle as a single adult.

I do understand anxiety. I used to be the most organized person, able to find anything anywhere in the house. I had a nice filing system, and my entire family knew they could count on me to help them locate that thingamajig or the you-know-that-wrench-thingy-that-came-with-the-you-know-the-bookcase-thingy? I lost that skill almost instantly when Stephanie died. I don’t know why or where it all went. It was further complicated by multiple moves and storage sheds and lost boxes and just damned life that happened in the wake of her death. Now I can’t tell my son where I put the spare key to his car. I think I know where it is, but I need to actually get up the energy to go look. If it isn’t there, then I have no clue what happened to it. I’m not the same person I was. M’s sister changed after all she went through, too. But I was assured that I would love her, because everybody loved her.

The problems started, though, the night she came to our house. It was the night before our wedding, and the hour was late. M and I had just had a knock-down-drag-out fight over a broken promise. I was hurt and angry, and I was really undecided if I was even going through with the wedding. I really was not in the mood to meet anyone, so I didn’t – at least not that night. I went to bed. I waited until the next morning, when I was calm and had coffee, to meet her. I’m sure G took that as a snub, and I really didn’t blame her, even though my coolness had nothing whatsoever to do with her.

The wedding went on, but G and I never really got to know each other. A year or so later, her life completely fell apart. She confessed to her siblings that she was being evicted from the rent-controlled apartment she had been in for over twenty years, just off Times Square. She was months and months behind on the rent and could not get it together to file for disability or bankruptcy or any other assistance. She was stuck and needed help. It was almost July. M and I had Pride celebrations all over the DC metro during June, and as was typical of us, we were having a bumpy ride together. It was M’s first marriage and my second. I knew what I wanted out of a marriage, but she didn’t have as clear a picture. I don’t know that she would put it that way, but we definitely had some different ideas about who we should be as a couple.

Despite my misgivings (and begging and pleading), she went to NYC with her other siblings and niece and nephew to move her sister out of the apartment. The plan was for her sister to come down and live with one of the siblings. I put my foot down and said she couldn’t stay with us. We were trying to work some things out between us so we could survive. It would have been a disaster for anyone else to move into the house. So at first, G didn’t come to our place, but her presence in the area definitely changed things. M would disappear for hours at a time. I figured (hoped) she was seeing her sister – which would have been just fine with me – and hoped that she wasn’t seeing someone else.

A therapist had told us early on (because we thought couples therapy would be a good idea before we took the plunge) that we should each maintain our own interests. It was misinterpreted to mean maintaining separate lives. That wasn’t what I wanted out of a marriage. I know lots of gay couples who live that way, but it wasn’t my jam. I’ll say that I never met a straight couple who lived that way and had a successful marriage. You have to blend your lives together and look toward each other. Yes, maintain friendships. Yes, have your own interests. But if you don’t share the majority of interests and activities together, you will fail.

Things continued to get worse. The more she pulled away, the more I hung on. The more we fought, the more rigid I became. I made a lot of mistakes. A lot.

It didn’t help that my migraines were out of control. I missed out on a lot of the outdoor activities she favored because I had to be in a dark room with no noise. She wanted to be out with her friends, having fun. At one point, I considered suicide, because my pain was too great, the medications were too ineffective, and the woman I loved didn’t love me the way I wanted her to. I didn’t feel valuable anymore to anyone.

Eventually, I packed a bag and went to my son’s house. The screaming matches were too getting to be much for me. I needed a break. She wouldn’t leave, so I did. I slept on my son’s couch for a week until I could get a bed delivered (because if I had to be there longer than a week, I needed a decent place to sleep). I didn’t tell Margaret at the time, but I was hoping we could go to counseling once I felt better. I was hoping there would be a happy ending for us.

Instead, she moved G into the house almost right away. Not only was there someone in my house I didn’t invite, but suddenly I wasn’t allowed to come to the house to get my things until M was there. This did not help my mood or my pain level, nor did it improve how I saw G. Suddenly, she was the insurmountable hill between us. I was furious. So rather than asking M to go to counseling with me, which I honestly no longer thought would work, I asked her for a divorce. We ended over the whole thing, and yes, I blamed part of it on her sister. Looking back, I realize that if I had been able to get my pain under control, then maybe I would have been able to find a new counselor and discuss the whole thing reasonably.

The reason I was given that G moved into the house is because M’s other siblings had said, “She has to go or we’re all gonna end up divorced.” So their marriages were more important than ours. The gay thing, you know. It’s not a real marriage – even though it was. We were left in the middle of a dark road with a semi barreling down on us.

It was one of the saddest times in my entire life. My depression was so deep that I wasn’t sure I would survive it.

Let’s be honest. I almost didn’t.

But life went on, as it tends to do. M and I even tried again over a year later. By that time, I had an apartment closer to where M worked, so we saw each other all the time. We even went through another wedding ceremony at the courthouse, but we told no one (except my son). I (wrongly) thought we could make it work that time. I’m not sure when it started to fall apart again, but I remember arguing about G, about what was going to happen there. I didn’t want to live with her. I asked why she couldn’t go live with one of the other siblings or get disability and live on her own. That’s when I heard about what the other siblings had said about trying to sustain their own marriages. It became clear that G was there to stay. We had no future together, so I just gave up.

I didn’t hate G, but I’m pretty sure she hated me. It isn’t unusual for siblings to side with one of their own in a divorce or argument. I know that my sister was pretty upset, too, but now that time has past and M and I have become important to each other again, my sister has wondered why we don’t try again. We clearly care for each other. M helped me move to NC and has been down for a couple of visits since. We always have a great time together.

I guess it’s because I no longer believe in my ability to sustain a relationship. Instead, I’m planning to build an addition onto my son’s house in the next couple of years and move in with him. My sight is rapidly failing from several concurrent conditions. I anticipate retiring in the next couple of years, so I’m starting to donate my books and some of the clothes that are too warm for this area and other things I no longer need. I want to live simply and quietly. I”m not looking for anyone, because I don’t want to be someone else’s problem. My son has graciously asked me to live with him, and I know he means it. No, I’m not dead yet, but I don’t have the inclination to look for anyone else. I have failed to make it work with two people now, so I have no hope or aim of trying again.

What I want to do now is to find time to stitch together all the chapters of the book about the loss of my daughter. I have plenty of material. It’s like having a basketful of yarn. It’s all ready to be knitted into something special.

But the thing I didn’t want to be right about? I didn’t want to be right about G’s cancer. She had survived a cancer and was down to her last few biologic treatments. Her health took a turn, however, and there was some concern that she might either be drinking or experiencing signs of dementia. I wondered if her cancer were back. No, nothing in the bloodwork (it doesn’t always show up there – it didn’t with me) and nothing on the MRI. Curious.

And then they found out they had to move from the townhouse they were in because it was being sold. Right in the middle of packing up boxes and signing a lease and getting rid of things they couldn’t take with them, she took a turn for the worse. This time M took her to the hospital and insisted they get to the bottom of it. The doctors agreed.

Eventually, over a period of weeks, it was found that her cancer had spread to her meninges and was causing encephalopathy and many neurologic symptoms. She lost the interest in food. She lost the ability to walk. She was not a candidate for the normal regimen that would give her another few months. It was decided that the best thing to do was to find a hospice bed for her, which took over a week.

She was moved to the hospice house on Friday or Saturday of last week. (Was it really just a week ago?) On Tuesday, I had one of my episodes of profound weakness and fatigue. I get these when something is happening in my world, but I wasn’t sure it was one of the death premonitions. It was out of the clear blue sky. I took the afternoon off work, because I knew this was going to take a lengthy nap to get past. During my dream, I saw dead cats, perfectly preserved. I woke myself up three hours later, crying out, “Nooooo!”

When I talked to M later that day, I told her that she should stay with her sister that night. But all the nurses were saying, “No, it doesn’t look like G’s death is imminent. Her breathing is strong.” But G wasn’t responding much to her surroundings, and she was beginning to reach out as though to take someone in an embrace. Again, I suggested that M stay, but she was exhausted from everything that had been happening, including getting her belongings moved into a storage shed, and moving into a friend’s spare room, where she would live until she found a place just for herself. It was clear that G could not last much longer, and she would never come home again.

The nurses thought maybe a week or so. G was given morphine for the pain, which had gotten worse since she was moved from the hospital.

Overnight, she died. The nurse was bathing her, and she opened her eyes. She became “peaceful, and her breathing changed.” They called M right away, and she said she was already sort of anticipating the call. She had sat upright in bed around 11:30 for no good reason, and the call came shortly thereafter. By the time M reached the hospice house, G was gone. She had died peacefully in a very nice place. She died the way she lived–on her own terms.

I wish I had been wrong about the cancer. I wish I had been wrong about her dying. But those dreams I have are so profound and they are always preceded by those weird episodes of fatigue so strong I can’t fight it.

Only part of this story was mine to tell, and only because we were family. M and I talked almost daily throughout G’s weeks in the hospital and then in hospice, because we are still family. I stayed away, because I knew G wouldn’t want me there. Several times, I almost took my dog to my son’s house and drove up anyway. It took everything I had in me not to do it. This wasn’t about me, after all.

Regrets? Yes, I have them. I wish I had tried harder on so many levels–to make the marriage work, to get to know G, to allay her opinions of me. There are no second chances when it comes to death, though. When it’s over, it’s over.

So many people have died in my circle lately, or are in the process of dying. Cancer, diabetes, age, heart disease. Death comes for all of us, but it hurts when there are things left undone or unsaid. I try to do better every day, but sometimes I find I can’t. I simply hide away and try to do no harm.

Peace, Jude

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About Me

A writer and solitary soul in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

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