Friday, 10 May 2013

The Family Drain

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My acupuncturist was a great conspiracy theorist. Whilst waiting for the strategically placed needles to start opening up the energy flow, I would entertain myself by making a few 'innocent' remarks that would be sure to set him off on long rants that became increasingly paranoid over the years. He finally emigrated to a safer existence in New Zealand - just in time for a large earthquake. Amongst some of the more airy-fairy nonsense we discussed an occasional theory would strike me as apposite,  'the family drain' was such a one. The theory was that the repressed emotions of previous generations may flow down the family until eventually an outlet, usually female, is found. Then all that unexpressed, pent up, joy, fear, love, anxiety comes flooding out through her. Bollox of course - except in my case there is a hint of truth in it.  More sensitive, emotional, and generally more effusive than generations of Socks before me.. I am 'the family drain'.

I am pondering this theory as I drive west to Wales to visit OldmaSock. I had planned to check on her well being earlier in the year but the long winter, a vicious never ending cold and a series of bad news has drained what little energy my ME leaves me. As far as I can tell OldmaSock's life has been running well enough, safe within her routine of OAPs dinner and church clubs. It's difficult to ascertain in our phone calls if anything is wrong as she invariably adopts a cheery, singsong, voice and has always been stoic in the face of any adversity. OldmaSock is nothing if not a survivor, even if it has sometimes meant putting her own needs before those of her family. She never whinges or moans about difficulties, not permitting herself the human frailties and fragilities she also denies others.

In the past if anything is going wrong it has been my brother, as 'man' of the family, who bears the brunt of OldMaSock's repetitive, frustrating, phone calls to say she can't tune the TV into Judge Judy, or more recently an imagined problem with the gas fire. As we both live a long way away it is very difficult to deal adequately with them and OldMaSock absolutely refuses any suggestion of home help.  These things have now become my responsibility. On my last visit BroSock joined us with the tragic news that his wife has Motor Neurone Disease and for the foreseeable future he will be primarily occupied with her care. OldmaSock was given a very limited version of this - there is no point upsetting her with the pain of other people's lives and in the event she does absorb what she is told she may ask the same painful questions again and again and again never remembering the answer. Oldmasock has always had an uncanny knack of thinking the most insensitive thing to say and then saying it at the worst possible time- like some sort of Tourettes syndrome, only without the swearing. When BroSock once suffered from a bad bout of depression my father had to stop her from talking to him on the phone for fear she would say something to trigger off a further descent into gloom. If confronted about her tactlessness she will giggle nervously and play the 'Northern' card "Oh but I don't mean anything by it. It's what we Yorkshire women are like". I don't think she does mean to cause pain but sometimes her lack of empathy, sympathy or emotional intelligence, coupled with a strong impulse to say whatever comes into her head, can cut you to the soul. Now the increasing dementia and short-term memory loss will mean the comment may be repeated over and over and over again, the needle stuck in the groove. Worse...I believe it is an inherited family trait and it is only because I have more empathic awareness that I (mostly) stop my impulses to do the same. 

As teenagers BroSock and I were close -I remember him returning home late one night, a few months after he had started dating the girl who would later become his wife. He woke me to whisper his excitement that she had told him she loved him for the first time. I was thrilled for him not realising that this new relationship would end our closeness and relegate me to the sidelines of teenage angst and loneliness. Now he has his own family to support him and my grief at his situation is useless as there is little I can do to help other than take over his responsibilities with OldMaSock. But I too have my own traumas to deal with.

Returning from our Easter break a month ago we found Spook hiding under the bed and refusing food, the beginning of a month of endless vets visits, hours of waiting for phone calls and Spook, like Schrodinger's cat, neither alive nor dead until we pick up the phone and hear the latest news. At last after endless blood tests and scans he has had an operation to remove his spleen and has come through that well - albeit with nearly half his fur shaved off, a stapled scar up his tummy like a zip, and a horrible cone collar around his head to stop him licking the wound. As I am driving I am thinking of the blog I will write about him.. 'Conehead the Barbarian' my brave, funny, little cat who has been stumbling around the house for days bumping into things with his ridiculous collar.  The cone hasn't stopped him foraging around the kitchen to steal food, or to stretch out on top of me for a cuddle, his head propped on my breasts, the cone itself jammed uncomfortably under my neck - a rare and precious moment of lovingness that I don't cut short to answer the ringing phone, or even to disturb by reaching out for my glass of wine on the nearby table. He has been through so much but I think we are now out of the woods.

It's sunny and warm when I arrive at OldmaSock's - she has forgotten I am coming of course but treats the surprise with equanimity, she is used to being surprised by things she has no memory of doing or saying. She immediately decides to mow the lawn, in part to demonstrate how capable she is so I won't move her to a home - she always harbours a suspicion that this is the motive behind any visits.  And she is well capable, still physically strong and very active - she has an energy at the age of eighty-six I can only envy.

The Bedsock phones that evening and the news is bad, the worst, with chemo Spook has possibly nine months. I didn't expect it.. Somehow after the month of expecting the worst I had just convinced myself it would all be OK. Now I feel like my whole insides are crumpling and falling away leaving me just a numb husk. I can't speak.. I want to howl away my pain, to collapse on the floor until someone tells me everything is alright.. I don't want to upset OldmaSock so I somehow pull myself together but I have to explain the tears coursing down my face. I briefly tell her what's happened "that's sad" she sympathises "put him down it's not fair to let them suffer." I feel stabbed with pain -  it's inappropriate - the Bedsock has told me Spook will have a short but quality life. OldmaSock has never had time for those not up to scratch, pets were invariably bundled off to their ending at the vets at first sign of failure. I have no doubt that had she known I would end up with long term health problems, I would have been on a one-way ticket to Switzerland the minute I looked a bit peaky.

Difficult to know where the line is drawn between being a monster and just somewhat overly pragmatic. I don't mention it again and as far as OldmaSock is concerned it is quickly forgotten. I paste a smile on my face and a cheery, singsong, voice to match OldmaSock's and battle my way through three days of what was always going to be stressful but now feels like hell. I need to see my cats, I need to be with the Bedsock, I need to have my familiar things around me to show me that life goes on. Not stuck here in this void with no radio, no internet and OldmaSock constantly flicking through the tv channels she doesn't watch. I heat up one of the ready meals I have bought as I don't trust anything from OldmaSock's fridge with its best before dates of yesteryear. As soon as I have dished up some of the oven cooked lasagne she scuttles off to blast it in the microwave, super-heating it to a dangerous level.  Madness but its been going on for years even when she stayed with us and the Bedsock would cook her a lovely meal only to find, to his dismay,  that she would suddenly leap up and disappear off into our kitchen to 'nuke' it. Now I scarcely care and can't eat anything anyway.

On my last day,  after I have finally sorted out as much of OldMaSock's life as I can,  we go out for a walk along the coastal path, OldMaSock scampering happily up the cliff steps whilst I amble more wearily behind. It's so beautiful, the sea clear and blue beneath the cliffs, the acid yellow of the gorse with its heady scent of coconut and citrus, I loved this as a child but today I feel immune to it, alienated. I haven't slept, I'm tired, I just want to dive off the rocks and float away.  I have always been a fighter but I don't know how I can cope with this cruellest of situations. It seems such a short time ago I wrote about the death of my beloved cat Luka on this blog which I found horribly difficult to come to terms with. Now I am grieving for my bright-eyed, naughty little Spook who at age four has never seemed to grow up and now never will. It is all too hard, too unbelievable that life could be this cruel again. The Bedsock also grieves but like most men is more adept at compartmentalising his emotions, holding them until the right time to mourn. For me, as family drain, I need to find some way to staunch the flow of emotion and enjoy Spook's last months, as I will ensure that Spook enjoys them. I am, after all, OldMaSock's daughter - somewhere inside me there must be a residue of her strength, resilience and incredible instinct for survival.

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I know that some readers will think "that's sad but it's a cat not a child" and that may be true in your world.. in my world they are my family and I love them. My expectations may be different but my feelings are the same.

I wrote this as I find it cathartic to do so.  Please don't feel you have to comment although you are welcome to do so - I will take your sympathy as read. In any case, at present Spook is fine.

12 comments:

pianolearner said...

Really sorry to hear about both Spook and your sister-in-law. As a bloke, when we hear about something bad our natural reaction is to find something to say that makes it all better. When really we need to understand that sometimes there isn't any words that do....

All our love :)

beangenie said...

Sympathies... and companion animals are precious too. No reason to apologise...

beangenie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hillwards said...

Oh. :( Hugs.

Helen said...

So sorry to hear about Spook. My cats are my family, so I think I can understand how this must feel. There is not really much one can say, I only hope Spook will still get to have some good times.

janerowena said...

Spook was very real to me, and I never even met him. He will always be a wide-eyed kitten and you will never forget him. I haven't had a dog or cat now for the past ten years, I just can't cope with the deaths really.

Arabella Sock said...

Pianolearner - I agree,there is nothing that can make things better but sometimes an acknowledgement of just how shit things are is worth a great deal.

Thank you beangenie and hillwards and Helen.

Jro - part of the reason I wrote this post is because I know that some people have been following Spook's adventures since he was a kitten. Ironic that after my obsessive anxiety that he might be killed on the road outdoors it is the enemy inside that will do for him. My first thought is no more cats, it was difficult enough with the first two who died of old age but losing young cats is just too much.

Spook is at present enjoying more freedom outdoors than I have given him before as there is no point worrying now. He is happy and relaxed.

Arabella Sock said...

PS the deleted comment above was a duplicate.

wellywoman said...

Wow, reading this post was like reading about elements of my own family. It can be so difficult when there is the strong bond of shared genes and yet a feeling that you're so poles apart. We surround ourselves with friends who share the qualities we like but when it comes to family there can often be a feeling of how can we even be related? I can see a lot in the 'family drain' theory.
I'm so sorry to hear about Spook and your sister-in-law. It can be exhausting in itself having to deal with the awful things life throws at us. Sending love and hugs x

Arabella Sock said...

thank you Wellywoman. Whilst it's easy to believe that other's have much better family relations it would seem that actually many of us are in the same boat. A friend of my age has 'divorced' her parents and cannot forgive them for past behaviour. I'm glad that I haven't gone down this route with OldmaSock although sometimes it has been tempting. We are all fallible and could have done better.

Gardeningbren said...

Always a special read when you write about your mother! Pats to Spook, and in a way..you too. B.

Arabella Sock said...

Thank you GardeningBren. Spook is doing well at the moment and enjoying more hours of patrolling his territory outdoors than I have let him in the past. He doesn't seem overly affected by the chemo either although it is difficult to tell with cats. Doesn't stop him from being wicked and stealing food! OldmaSock will outlive everyone!