What Lingers

We have a rash of weddings coming up this fall: two co-workers, a close friend’s little sister, and my husband’s cousin. I love weddings, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a bride’s blushing procession down the aisle without getting flush and weepy myself. Like the champagne of the toast, they are occasions imbued with the sparkling, golden light of new, idealistic love; they’re rites built around some of the best stuff we do as human beings: sacrifice, generosity, affection, compromise, devotion, union. My co-worker was married for much of her twenties to the wrong guy – a husband who took her for granted and abused her inherent gentleness – and now she has been swept off her feet by a man so charmingly schmaltzy and deeply good that he almost seems to have walked off the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel. They are getting married at Christmastime in a historic village where women in floor-length frocks churn butter for New England school children on field trips by day, and the whole thing is so darling that I’m smiling from ear to ear alone here in my living room as I write this.

My friend’s little sister has found her quirky match, cementing a love borne by hardcore shows, black concert Ts, and adventure sports. Their wedding reflects the idiosyncrasies of their personalities, a save-the-date in the form of a ticket stub, a zip-lining bachelorette party. My other co-worker is marrying her college sweetheart, which marks the merger of two big, loud, warm Italian families. She beams when she talks about it, and that leaves me swimming in delight.

The first wedding in the line-up is my husband’s cousin, and the approach of this one leaves me vacant of all my usual joy. It doesn’t help that she’s having it at 5:30 P.M. on a Thursday night; it doesn’t help that my mother-in-law presumptuously questioned me, incredulous that I wasn’t taking the next day off from work during the second week of school in order to stay through the whole reception; it doesn’t help that every guest is being strained and inconvenienced to stand in as extras for her princess-wedding-on-the-cheap at the waterfront venue she can’t afford, but that’s not the real root of my surly attitude. I am angry that she never acknowledged our loss. The self-professed empath who is a social worker by trade and advertises herself as a hero for abused and marginalized children, with her stream of Facebook posts about the emotional core of the big controversies that rumble through the news, someone we see for birthdays, all the holidays, and Sunday dinners: this person failed to send so much as a card or a text message and has yet, a year after the fact, to even breathe a word of acknowledgement that this happened to us.

She is not alone. My husband’s family was shockingly bad at dealing with our tragedy. We warred with my mother-in-law for a year over self-righteous boundary-crossing and me-me-me entitlement to bad behavior while we were grieving, though I’m relieved to say that we at long last reconciled and our relationships are on the mend. His sister attacked us in a group text thread for refusing to back down from his mother’s stubbornness and abuse during the period that we were not on speaking terms, employing her typically wormy drop-the-bomb-and-flee attack strategy, which has left plenty of emotional shrapnel lodged, gangrenous. This was perhaps an even greater loss than the child himself, the way this crisis scratched away the rosy patina on a family I once idealized, exposing apathy and rot as they abandoned us while we were suffering, while I was craving the proverbial casserole on the doorstop, a loving embrace in a time of grief.

I haven’t written about this before because I was too deep in it. I write about it now because I had imagined that a new pregnancy would alleviate these feelings, assuming that I was projecting much of my anger at the stark injustice of what happened to my baby and then my poor scarred uterus at the nearest and most convenient target. Sadly, with the approaching wedding forcing a lot of contact and expectation and expense, I am angrier at them than ever, despite the prospect of a healthy child. I hate it, this toxic rage  holding me hostage. I want to exorcise the demon, but the disconnect between what the brain intellectually thinks and what we viscerally feel has made that easier said than done.

About a month ago, I was having dinner to reconnect with an old friend. We had drifted apart because she bore children that corresponded uncannily with my more painful losses. We were sitting at the bar, and she was confessing her survivor’s guilt and her remorse for saying clumsy, hurtful things when I was at my most raw. I apologized for some of my absence, which I admitted was based more in self-preservation than in resentment at anything she’d said or done, and I filled in the gaps of my story to help her understand why. There was a man seated next to her at the bar, who seemed to be looking over my shoulder throughout to watch the baseball game, and I remember feeling slightly defensive that he was staring. After he left, the bartender told us, quite touched and astonished herself, that he had paid our entire check, saying,

“No one should have to go through that.”

Since that day, I have wanted to pay it forward, passing his compassion and generosity of spirit along to someone in need. Retiring this choking bitterness against my in-laws seems like as good a place as any to invest that energy, but, truthfully, forgiving someone who isn’t sorry might be one of the most challenging feats of the heart.

 

27 thoughts on “What Lingers

  1. I absolutely agree that you can’t move in to a good place with your extended family until you’ve worked through these feelings. But, the way you feel is totally valid and understandable and although the prospect of a healthy child can go a long way towards soothing those raw spots it is not and never will be the real answer. From an outsiders perspective I think it’s ok to not forgive them yet. It’s ok to still be pissed and hurt and resentful. In my limited experience the forgiveness will come, but only after you’re done being angry. Do you know what I mean? So, be gentle with yourself.

    And that guy at the bar is my hero. Amazing. Heartwarming. And he’s right – no one should have to go through that and I’m sorry that you did. xo

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    • I think I just have to survive this ridiculous wedding to give myself a little more time to get into a place of at least accepting that this is who they are and adjusting expectations/boundaries. Thanks for the reminder to be gentle with myself. Hard to force feelings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read your blog and just want to tell you that you are in my prayers. I am survivor of infertility, mom of donated embryo baby and everything you wrote resonates with me. The infertility and miscarriages and all the struggles were the culprit of broken relationships and anger. Anger for misunderstanding, lack of compassion and emphathy from some of the family members, people who should have been there. Even now when I have the baby the feelings are still raw and hurt. I have feeling of injustice and I do struggle with it, but I also know that you need to be gentle with yourself and not force the relationship. It is amazing to know that there are people out there like the guy at the bar who is emphasizing. I agree with him no one should go through this. I wish you all the blessings with your pregnancy. God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. These comments have been a good reminder to be patient with myself. I’m not a grudge-holder by nature, so this anger will likely diminish on its own in time. Congrats on your baby!

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  3. I hear you, so much on this.

    I cannot tell you how to move past your anger, because I can’t move past my own. I refuse to have anything to do with a large portion of my “family” for all the years of hurts and selfishness. And now I am recovering from surgery and trying to decide how to proceed with my own parents, who have spent 2 months making me feel bad for taking a week out of life to take care of myself.

    Take your time. Take care of you. Skip the wedding if you don’t want to go. If she’s not sorry, that also means she hasn’t changed, and is likely to hurt you again. You’re not required to put yourself through that, for anyone.

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    • ::Wince:: Another surgery? I’m sorry that endo has turned your life so upside-down and I hope you are healing well. Family be damned. Take care of you is right! XO

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      • Thyroid this time, actually! Waiting on the biopsy to see if it was cancerous or just pre-cancerous, but either way, I am thyroid-free. Stupid thing didn’t work anyways!

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  4. Why is it that tragedy makes some of us better humans and some of us worse? I’m not sure which side of that I fall on myself.

    I went through some crap with my in-laws around my pregnancy and grief and such, and I really thought it was over. Oddly, Mr. O has moved passed it, but I cannot. CANNOT. I haven’t quite figured it out- do we hurt people who love us because we can? Is this the seedy underbelly of unconditional love? You can act like a complete d-bag, and people will still come to your parties?

    Rather than thinking about how I want to feel towards my in-laws, I am settling for being honest with myself– that is a place I can start from.

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    • Gosh, how this resonates! My husband and I have been warring about this. He accused me of being a dog with a bone and I accused him of being a professional carpet sweeper. I think we’re just operating from different playbooks. My family is dysfunctional, but we don’t bullshit. His family is all about ‘moving on’ with none of the acknowledgement, accountability, or healing remorse that makes that possibility to do cleanly and free of resentment. It is maddening to me, but my hanging on is maddening to him. He said yesterday, “My first priority is our little family,” so I guess I really need to keep that in mind.

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  5. Mr. MLACS and I were accepting abusive behavior from our parents and siblings right up until BG was born. But then the line was drawn in the sand, because I had had enough and would not facilitate a relationship between my child and hypocritical bullies who have no respect for Mr. MLACS and I (unless we are giving them what they want).
    Thus, my child has no grandparents on either side. And only one aunt (my sister), who is now very aware of my boundaries and the consequences for crossing them.
    I’m not saying to cut-off your offending family members, but DO decide what boundaries work for your nuclear family (you, DH, kids) and lay them down now. Otherwise these bullies will keep testing you and eventually you won’t be able to repair the damage. Boundaries are not a punishment–they are put in place to preserve a relationship. You and DH have to be on the same page in order for boundaries to be effective.
    And then, how people react is telling as to whether or not they will ever be capable of having a mutually respectful relationship with you. And then, if they don’t respect you and DH then they do not get carte blanche with your kids. Better to know now. XOXO

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    • I thought a lot about the game-changing impact of a child whom I am charged to protect. Something all the siblings seem to have in common is flakiness that is secondary to their self-centeredness, and that includes my own brother. I imagine our kids being like the hapless children of deadbeat dads who blow off their weekends the way my brother blew off my birthday dinner the morning of because he was hungover. That will be an interesting wrinkle to negotiate, but, after everything, it sounds like a pretty amazing problem to have!

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      • Oh yes, our siblings (mine and Mr. MLACS’s) are also flaky and self-centered. They seem to function in “the real world” and yet somehow their relationships with us are completely dysfunctional. I don’t get how they reconcile the way they treat us vs. the way they treat other people. Obvioysly they know how to be appropriate, polite, courteous, etc. We are both the oldest siblings though, so that undoubtedly has something to do with their sense of entitlement. *sigh* Best wishes to you! XOXO

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  6. I have tears in my eyes, that guy at the bar is a truly amazing individual.
    As for all the family stuff, we honestly still haven’t told Mr. MPB’s parents about our losses and why we chose to adopt. We KNOW that they will not be supportive. In fact, their very first comment when we told them we are adopting was “have you tried everything, you know there are lots of options like IVF to have your own child”. I will never forget that comment, it stung and to this day I still worry and wonder how they will treat our son who according to them is not “our own child”. But, I also know that comment didn’t sting as much as the fallout of telling them about our miscarriages and how hurtful they would have been. I hold years of baggage with my in-laws, and honestly, I’m now at the point where I just don’t care. I’ve tried everything imaginable to try to build a positive relationship, and I’m done. I don’t have to like everyone in the world, and just because they are “family” doesn’t mean I have to forgive all the hurt and continue trying for the relationship I want with them. So now, I just accept them for who they are, make decisions to limit what they know about our lives and I don’t even try to forgive. I still get angry and annoyed, but I seem to be able to let it go a lot quicker now that I’m not actively trying to forgive. Anyways, this is just my experience and my approach, but I wanted to share to give you something to think about.
    Sending you so much love, this stuff is just so hard!

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  7. As you know too well, forgiving people who can’t be trusted to do more harm is a dangerous step, like lowering the drawbridge that protects the castle. This story was touching, very real, and beautifully written. Your students are lucky to have you as a model for their own work.

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    • Oh, thanks ::blushing:: I’m just trying to heed the old adage about hanging into anger being like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.

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  8. Isn’t it remarkable how many of us have such similar stories re: in-laws/family? I am so sorry you had to deal with such utter bullshit. The personality of your MIL is familiar. Me-me-me entitlement—ach, god, these selfish bitches. How dare they. Like Cathy, “I cannot tell you how to move past your anger, because I can’t move past my own”—that’s me. And maybe that’s okay. Your family should not have caused you more pain. They should have comforted you, and that is it. Your MIL’s pain, or whatever she was going through, was to be put on a shelf in order to be there for you. What is wrong with people….I love what MLACS has to say about boundaries. Wise. I send peace. Skip the wedding. Seriously, eff that! I have decided, after my last encounter with the MIL, which reminded me of all the hurt and pain of the past years in her presence, that I am allowed to never participate in gatherings including my MIL ever again. Life is short, and my health is more important than making nice while seething silently at the dropped bombs. I am thinking of you and the new little life inside. Closed eyes in a moment of sending you light. Grow, little life. Be.

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    • Fortunately, her post-loss behavior was mostly out of character for my MIL. I think her own grief over the lost grandchild clouded her judgment and emotions, and she couldn’t see herself until after things settled. Things are much better now, and I am really grateful for that. We were so close before all of this! Your MIL’s problem seems pathological, so I think those strict boundaries make a lot of sense. Thank goodness for the geographical buffer!

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  9. Wow. I can totally relate to this. Tragedy brings out the extremes in people’s personalities for sure. I find that after my losses I have to keep certain people at an arm’s length. If they are family, I put them in a “cordial but never close” category. Funny how folks who are “self-professed” anything are typically the most clueless. My rule of thumb, especially when pregnant, is to take the path of least stress. I’d say if going to the wedding will cause you more stress than not going, then definitely don’t go. In my book, infertility/pregnancy loss is a get-out-of-event-free card, and others will just have to suck it up. But only you can decide if the grief you get from family members for skipping it outweighs the stress of attending.

    Congratulations on your news! I’m sure it’s a roller coaster of emotions for you right now. Sending hugs and positive thoughts your way!

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    • Not going to the wedding would cause so much bullshit with my ILs. I think my strategy is going to be to make the appearance and leave early with work the next day as an excuse. And, yeah, “cordial but never close” I think is the new reality, at least for awhile. I don’t write those conclusions in ink, but I need some distance for now.

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  10. FWIW, I recently saw an Osteopath for relief from some physical symptoms that had developed due to the emotional toll of my own tortured journey to try to have a child. So far, it’s been helpful in releasing some of the demons. If you’re open to a bit of voodoo, it might be helpful.

    Wishing you the best of luck with the new chicks 🙂

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    • Is that like a chiropractor? I am going to head back to acu (if only for help with the sickness!) and meditation has always been powerful for sorting through stuff like this.

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  11. I wish you could fracture a toe somehow and on such pretext miss that godawful wedding. Not really of course (about the toe). But I hope you know what I mean.

    The bar guy is a beacon of light. How lovely. Today as I stopped for a coffee in a big coffee chain drive through as I braced for waiting through the little one’s most recent medical visit I answered “not so great, I have a sick child, but thank you for asking” when asked how my days was going. He gave me my drink for free even in the face of my initial protest. Proof that rare creatures of random kindness and compassion still walk among us. The bar guy had much grace in his quiet honouring. It’s nice to know these rare birds exist

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