The best case scenario, for a couple in a time of crisis, is that they will support each other. One will be able to turn to the other for love and reassurance. In the worst case, they will make each other miserable and end up making the crisis worse. When my mom died, Christi and I fell into the latter group.
Until this week, I blamed Christi for this. "She wasn't there for me." I broke up with her because I thought if I had another major crisis, like my brother, my dad or myself getting cancer, that she "wouldn't be there for me again." I thought she was unable. Trying to talk through it would bring up incredibly painful memories and at the end would fail, so why put ourselves through that?
My strategy for dealing with stress from the time of my mom's death and the aftermath, was not to think about it. I didn't think about it. I didn't talk about. I started thinking about it for the first time over winter break. christi and I couldn't even talk about the period and still can't without arguing. It breaks down into "my mom died!" "i felt very hurt!" "I felt hurt too!"
After a couple of weeks of being broken up with Christi, it occurred to me that she was very very present for her brother. He had a nervous breakdown, which is worse than what I experienced (at least more personally debilitating . . . ) and she was there for him the whole way. Maybe is she was there for him, she would be there for me. I called her up and asked her if she wanted to work it out. I told her that I had some demands, but that I couldn't ask them except with a shrink as a referee, because each of us is carrying an incredibly loaded stack of hurt and an attempt to discuss this without help would explode.
When my mom first was sick, I was sad, I was scared and I was angry. I wanted Christi to be there right next to me the whole time. And she was. She took time off work and sat with me and my mom in the hospital. She brought me sushi every night. She did everything she could for me. She knew my mom for about 7 years then, so she was directly feeling sad, stressed, etc too. My support network was primarily Christi, but was also some south bay friends, including Tammy & Vince, Mitch and the Kazes. Those guys were way cool. Christi relied upon them and her brother, who was living with them at the time.
The situation with my mom got worse, she was angry at me and I was supposed to be caring for her and she wouldn't let me. Then her insurance company was declining treating her. And it was completely terrifying that my mother, the woman who raised me, was trying to run away from the house in her pajamas. I kept a list in my head of all the terrible things that might happen (she might fall, she might take all her pills at once, she might run away, etc) and how to prevent them and fixated on it. I also became increasingly angry.
I was angry at my dad for not implementing my list and for being afraid and for not realizing sooner what was going on. I was mad at my brother for running away. I was furiously completely angry at the insurance company. Christi and our friends began strongly encouraging me to get therapy. I remember trying to figure out how to work the therapists door system and becoming completely, totally furious and wanting to smash it. Then I spent an hour in therapy, stressing about my mom's treatment plan and the insurance company, in a bitter rage and so so so much pain and the shrink kept saying, "it sounds like you have a lot to think about." I went in wanting to figure out what to do about this problems. The shrink didn't give me a plan of action. She didn't make me feel better. It was clearly a waste of my time and I felt angry about it and angry that people made me go see her. Clearly my problems were all rooted in the physical fact of my mom being sick and that's not something that you can talk your way into fixing.
I don't remember my overall mood at the time, except upset, but it seems to me now that if I was that angry at a shrink and her door, I must have been angry at many many things. I wanted Christi to be right next to me as a crutch, but also as a human security blanket. I wanted affection from her when I needed it, but I probably also did what kids do to their security blankets and bit her when I was angry, which was probably most of the time.
Christi was leaning more and more on her brother, who was very kind to her and more and more hostile to me. I wanted him to move out because of his hostility. Christi saw that as me removing her primary source of support. He stayed and she leaned on him until he completely fell apart. He went to the hospital and then he went to Portland. Christi went with him. She didn't want to come back. I insisted that she should. She had to be there for me! So she did.
We couldn't be in the same room without fighting. We couldn't work out the problem with so much stress still pouring in. My mom was still getting worse all the time. we told a shrink our tale of woe in factual terms. My mom had cancer. The insurance company hadn't wanted to treat it. The surgeon messed up the referrals. We couldn't start treatment until it was too late. And then Christi's brother had become very ill and was living with us. The shrink was horrified at the awfulness of it, but said she could see how much christi and i loved each other. She gave us the temporary advice not to talk about it, so that we could at least co-habitate.
My memory is that Christi didn't like that shrink and wanted to find a new one, even thought I liked her. Christi's memory is that I didn't like the shrink and she did. In either case, we went to find a different shrink. We would start telling our tale of woe, and it seemed to me that Christi would rattle off a litany of my misdeeds. I felt attacked. I nixed all the shrinks. I walked out of one of them. So we never talked about what happened with her brother and my mom at that time. We still haven't.
I don't remember feeling rage at this point. I remember having a panic attack and Christi taking me to the emergency room and me sobbing in the ER, but I don't know when that happened. My memory is all jumbled. but I feel "comfortable" being angry. It's an emotion that doesn't scare me and than I can settle into when things are negative. I'm sure I was still angry. (actually, as i re-edit this, I remember being angry then....) I would have pointed this anger out in all directions. As the person closest to me, Christi would have gotten a whole lot of it.
Christi wanted space from me. She didn't want to be my security blanket anymore. Her own source of support was gone. She was increasingly distant. Her brother blamed me for his problems. She agreed with him and was angry at me.
after my mom died, I was a mess. I didn't get out of bed until christi came home from work. My conversational skills were shot. And I quit talking to my south bay support network or really anyone but Christi and Tiffany. Christi had to deal with me alone. I wanted to go on a trip to LA to visit my cousin. Christi did not want to go with me. she said she couldn't get off work. I started arguing with her constantly about her work schedules and whether she could get time off (my mom was a major donor to the organization she worked for, it seemed to me that she could get time off . . .. ). I thought that she just didn't want to travel with me. She might have foreseen a long road trip, trapped in a small car with the world's angriest woman. It only occurs to me now that using work as an excuse might have been an attempt to spare my feelings. Or maybe I wouldn't accept "I don't want to" as a reply.
My rage must have gradually subsided. when I'm grumpy, tho, I can be snippy, so I must have been snippy for a long time. I think that the last summer went relatively well, but it must have been a relief to Christi, when I moved out, that she could be sure of no snippiness. then I came to visit her in Paris and was stressed with school and was kind of snippy . . .. Now things are as they are now.
When my mom was dying, I needed to find a better way to deal with things than being angry. even after she was dead and I was calming down, I didn't want to see a shrink and I refused to discuss it. Christi was using increasingly forceful ways to communicate with me, probably out of necessity. We were angry at each other. It was a bad time. And I looked back on it a little bit and remembered feeling alone and Christi being angry with me and decided that she "wasn't there for me." I was bad, but I hurt and she should have cut me slack, I thought. But how much anger should a person have to absorb before they've cut enough slack? I pushed her too hard.
Trying to work it out based on "you weren't there for me" would have failed. so I was right. Lucky me.