My mother is sad, she feels guilty, she will always feel guilty, that makes me sad. She is suffering from “last one standing” syndrome. It is that heavy burden placed on the shoulders of the one who lives the longest. It’s that first prize one gets for coming in second. The price of investing in a relationship and having it work out till death, eventually, actually very slowly, do you part.
My mother just received the call that a bed is available at the home. My father will go in this Tuesday. She has anticipated this call for some time. We have been pushing her to do this; she turns eighty this year and does not have the physical strength to keep pulling my half paralyzed father up and down to the washroom all day and all night. I have told her I will be very angry if she dies before him. She knows this, but my anger is no match for the guilt she will fight and is fighting right now. She has to give in to her own limitations, she cannot save him, she never could. She knows this, but still, it is that guilt, that ugly monster that says to her when no one else is around, “you didn’t do enough”, you need to do more. I know the voices she is listening to, she has taught me to listen to the same ones, and it can ruin your life.
It has always amazed me how well acquainted some of us are with our guilt monster while others have never met the bastard. Of course I do believe alcohol and drugs play a part, but I think there are some people who are just not wired that way. I’m not just talking about serial killers and other obviously disconnected pieces of machinery. I am talking about the average person who has somehow managed to live a life relatively guilt free. You know, they’re the ones skipping down the street with a huge smile on their face, laughing as they leave a trail of debris that resembles human appendages. I envy them…just a little. I don’t really like who they are, but I want a piece of that, a piece of that freedom. I want to forget, selectively. I want to know, that when the time comes, I can do what’s best, not what eases my conscience.
And now there is my mother, my poor mother, carrying a burden I can’t lift….and I feel guilty.
Here’s the thing, how do you feel enough guilt to let you know you’ve done something wrong, but not feel too much guilt to make you do something stupid. Where is that balance? Is it something you learn or something you’re born with? And why are most mothers so good at teaching you how to feel it?
I’m beginning to think that guilt comes under the category of manipulation, not emotion. I think guilt is part of that arsenal of weapons used by someone who feels unable to be direct. Unfortunately the overuse of this weapon results in a distortion of perspective. When used too liberally it doesn’t heighten the moral compass of its receiver, it actually over stimulates to the point of implosion. To the point where we become emotionally crippled with every “save the children…animals…plants…” or whatever form of media or person who has learned to sharpen this tool.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think our mothers saw this as a weapon and said “Hey, I think I’ll screw my kids up.” No, I think using guilt for our parents was as natural as grabbing a weapon to defend themselves. It is a tool most women of my mother’s generation used to try to gain some form of control over a situation they felt powerless in. With no way out and the man of the house holding all the cards, most females of my parents’ generation had to take the indirect route. The option of direct confrontation was not available and the role of house maker didn’t supply most women with the ability to function outside the home in an economy that didn’t value any of their skills. So guilt was just one of the tools of manipulation a woman tucked into her purse.
So if guilt is a tool and not an emotion then what am I feeling right now. What am I feeling when I can’t help my mother. When I can’t reach inside her head and take the pain away. I feel powerless and sad. I start to understand that this is life and sometimes it just sucks. There is no use of guilt in this situation, there is no one asking me to feel it, it sits there, like a gun lying on the floor, bullet free…limp.
I say we throw away the weapon and change the language, just a little. I don’t feel guilty, I can’t, it is no longer in my vocabulary, I feel sad, mad, bad…anything, but not guilty.
There, now that I’ve solved that I feel better.
I think I’ll call my mother, it’s been a few days and I’m feeling a bit guil…..I mean, I should…I am going to give her a call.