Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Autonomy and Clint Eastwood

To some extent, we all wish for the autonomy to live life on our own terms. Achieving this comes at some cost.

About 18 months ago, my widowed father decided that it was time to move from the lake house where he and my mother lived out her last days. The nearest offspring lived about 80 miles away, and the rest of us live about 200 miles away. We were hoping that my Dad would move closer to one of the kids. There are a number of reasons for this: at least one of my siblings wanted more attention, one wanted less, one probably didn't care, and I wanted convenient access in the event of illness or emergency. I'm the pragmatic one.

Well, Dad decided that he couldn't move any closer to anyone. That is his decision. He has always isolated himself from the rest of his family (nuclear and otherwise) for reasons of his own. It gives him the independence that he craves.

Since June 23, he has managed to visit most every hospital in Northern Indiana, due to a gall bladder problem. The gall bladder itself is no longer a problem, it was removed. Sadly, he is now suffering from one of those wonderful hospital-borne infections that almost took his life last week. And this is where the desire to self-isolate and be autonomous creates a problem.

A man has to know his limitations. Autonomy is wonderful if you truly don't need anyone. Perhaps his need for emotional independence obscured the reality that his health would require some family member to be nearby to help him.

My desire to be the "good son" has been hampered by geography. I want to be there for him, but I cannot. This is the worst time of year for me work-wise, and I have a family of my own that needs me, too. I had to step in to help when my Mom was dying, and it pushed my family life to the brink.

Trying to cope with not only his illness, but the kookiness of my siblings in trying to deal with the kookiness has been difficult. The important news is that he should recover in time, and is otherwise healthy for someone with his vast array of ailments. It's tough getting old.

I'd like to think that I'm the only "normal" sibling; but I suspect that is not the case. One sibling is starved for attention, the attention she thinks (and is probably right) that she deserved as a child and never received. The other sister has given up on getting any attention. Dad just won't make the effort. I call my brother "Fredo Corleone". Fredo sat on the curb and cried while his father lay on the street after being shot.

The attention-seeker has jumped in and taken charge. She is the most capable from a logistics standpoint: she does not have a job and her children are old enough to get take care of day to day issues. Sadly, she is the least capable in dealing with crises. She told me (with a straight face) when the Dr told her that my Dad may have congestive heart failure, that she "just couldn't deal with that, it would be too much to bear". Gosh, imagine how my Dad would have to deal with it. It's all about her. Her. Her.

(yes, I know this posting is all about me, me, me. But's it's MY post.)

Anyway, she will take charge, and remind everyone at every opportunity that she has. And that she will single-handedly cure my Father of all his ailments, and that no one stepped up to help her.

Perhaps know I understand why Dad has chosen his isolated life.

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