Friday, September 14, 2012

A Lesson from My Older Sister

One of my basic life philosophies in life is to accept responsibility for myself and how I feel.  I’m a great believer in individual accountability and being responsible for your own stuff, check with my children, it’s a mantra.  To me, you abdicate control when it’s someone else’s fault that you feel bad.

My brother-in-law, my political alter-ego, the best debate in the house, has been sick; he has been in the hospital for multiple days, sick, dog sick, filled with nausea sick, feeling terrible.  My sister, the elder of my siblings, you know, the bossy one, has been camped with him at the hospital each and every day for going on three weeks.  What he is going through is awful, what she is doing is truly God’s work and requires blessings.

The brother-in-law finally recovered to the point he could have surgery to remove his gall bladder which was the evil culprit in this drama.  He is feeling better and starting the slow, one day at a time road to recovery.

I have been back and forth a bit with my sister, texting; the 21st century way to extend concern and get updates.  A recent text,  “…it’s amazing how much better I feel when her feels better….”.  From my elder, mostly wiser I sister, truer words, etc...

If you live with someone long enough, if you love with someone long enough they become such an integral part of your being you hurt when they hurt, you feel success when they succeed, you feel better when they feel better.  Your worry for them when they are broken is real and their victories are shared victories.

I know this because I worry to the point of obsession when Marty is “off her feed”.  When she laughs, when she smiles, the sun shines for both of us.

Yes, this stands in direct contradiction to one of my life’s philosophies, you must be responsible for you own feelings, so much for basic life philosophies…

It feels like Marty and I have always been hyper-linked in some form or fashion, never more than when she had the strokes, never more than when she lay in a coma, never more than when she was deathly ill, never more than when she was hurting.  

In spite of the years since the strokes, in spite of the months of improved health and well being, in spite of our shared experience at this new normal, it’s still the same.  To ask me how I’m doing, you should ask first how Marty is doing.  

I’m really not the self-sacrificing, self-effacing type, the type of guy who empathizes to the point of paralysis; I’m just not that guy.  I do have empathy; I can sympathize, and then move on with my life.  This is more than empathizing, understanding another’s pain, this is a step up born from a symbiotic relationship Marty and I have developed.

If Marty is feeling bad, if she is off just enough for my prying eyes to notice, if she is a tad bit hinky (southern colloquialism)  if she is sick or on the verge of sick, I’m just as hinky.  The worry, the tension, the anxiety come flooding back and all of the sudden I’m there, too focused, too worried about her.  I’m not sick, just obsessed.

I don’t know how to separate myself; I don’t know how to kick in an objective view of things and not feel worse when she feels bad or feel better when she is feeling good.  Even with all of our experience with this illness, with all of the time and angst spent dealing with health crises I can’t seem to divorce myself from how Marty is doing.  My sense of well being is captive to the life and health of another.

It’s one of the unintended consequences of being a caregiver, or a spouse, or a parent, or one of many things where you love and care unconditionally about someone else.  When you do, you just can’t help but become part of who they are and how they feel.

I am always surprised I find myself so intimately linked to another person.  I’m not sure why it’s so surprising, I’ve been with Marty, supporting her, being supported by her, most of my life, certainly all of my adult life. 
It’s so counter-intuitive to one of my mantras, “don’t let someone else dictate how you feel.”

Big talk.  I’m clearly still learning.

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