Wednesday, July 14, 2004

12 Aunt Bert & karmic ties

07-14-2004 Mayatime: 3 Etznab 1 Xul
(links not working, sorry, will fix eventually)
Not much to report as my parents are on vacation. I have their cat, the Jasper-Bastard, living behind my couch (and pooping on it–how many times do we have to show him the litter box?). He and my cats hate each other. Whenever he creeps out from his hiding place there’s hissing and spitting and all sorts of interesting noises. Actually my cats are big wimps who run away, but they make a lot of noise first. He did get into the bed a few times last night, and sat in the window for a while, but only when it wasn’t occupied by another cat.

It’s been raining all week so I haven’t been able to put water seal on my parent's new deck (or my old one) as I had promised. It’s also raining in Plymouth, where they are on vacation, and thus they are cutting their vacation short as they can’t even walk on the beach it’s so crappy out. I hope that my father will be able to enjoy and appreciate their vacation next year. It would be too horrible if his last vacation is ruined by rain.I think that if I had Jasper until Saturday, as was the original plan, he would have been fine and stopped living behind the couch. But they are coming to get him in a few hours. Since they didn’t call and say it’s nice up there and they’re staying, that means they’re on their way home.

I wanted to use this space to talk about my Aunt Bert, who’s pictured on page one. I have not seen her in person since November. She most likely has no memories of me at all. My 10th anniversary was last October, and my husband and I went on a cruise (click here for a small selection of cruise photos). Aunt Bert has always enjoyed pictures, and my stories of the outrageous things which just seem to happen when I am around. As soon as my pictures were printed and my album made up, I went to see her.

A few years ago she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and wasn’t expected to live. She became thin and frail and severely over-medicated. Her one hobby, her love, was always working in the yard, and she became too sick to do it anymore. I always thought that was how she would die–a heart attack in her garden. And I’m sure that’s what she would have chosen for herself.She can’t garden anymore. She only leaves the house to go to the doctor.

So anyway, I went to see her in November 2003 with my big fat album. My photo albums are works of art. I keep a journal, and paste the printout of it into the album, and illustrate it with the photos, and I also make funny captions.

At that point, she was too weak to climb the stairs in her house anymore. Her house has 3 bedrooms upstairs and the bathroom. Downstairs is the kitchen, dining room and living room. Her bed was set up in the middle of the living room with a porta-potty next to it. No attempt to make it comfortable for her to have guests. Personally, I would have made the dining room into a bedroom, and moved the TV so it could be seen from the bed and the couch. But she’s not my grandmother, and I have no say. I made a joke that she should get a basket for her walker, so she could carry the cordless phone and whatever else she might have wanted close to her, and she said her daughter refused to buy one for her. Real nice, huh?

Aunt Bert and my mother sat on the bed and looked at the album together while I sat in the chair. My aunt looked at a photo of me and said to my mother, “who’s that?” and my mother said, “That’s Berta, she’s right there,” and pointed to me. My aunt said “Oh” in a tone of perfect incomprehension and turned the page politely.She didn’t know who I was. And that’s why I haven’t been back.I refuse to feel guilty. Going to see her will only upset me. I have my memories of her, when she was the woman in the photo on page one. She has no memories of me.

The state apparently tried to seize her and her assets a couple of weeks ago. Her daughter & her husband had to cancel a skiing trip to stay home and take care of her and they shouted at her and blamed her. There’s no food in her house–they bring her meals, but my mother said that she doesn’t eat them. (My mom stopped going too and now that my father is sick he completely refuses to go). Her daughter lives in the house right behind hers (I lived there until I was two years old) and they share a driveway. Her grandson, who also lives in the house behind Aunt Bert, takes her to the doctor and tries to watch out for her. He works nights at the same place where my husband works days so they overlap about an hour a day.

For a while, she thought her grandson was a “nice boy who takes me to the doctor” with no clue who he was. Now she asks him about his children, so she must think he’s his father. He told me she thinks her parents are alive and says he shouldn’t take her out because they will get mad–does she now think they are going on a date when he takes her on her appointments? She has some sort of nurse or companion come in every day, and we suppose it was one of them who called the state. I think she would be better off in a home–she should not be living alone.

My cousin was born when I was eight years old. Before that, I was Aunt Bert’s honorary grandchild. I even remember her asking me to call her grandma, and with the logic of a child I said, “but I already know you’re my aunt, if you wanted to be my grandmother you should have always had me call you that.” And she stayed Aunt Bert to me. I am glad, because once my cousin was born, my father and I became shit to her. Not that she didn’t love us anymore, but her blood grandchild was more important. If I had called her grandma, and believed she was my grandma (she did raise my dad after taking him away from her sister), how much more would my heart have been broken when my cousin came along? (And of course, when his sister W came along, he became shit to his parents & grandmother, but not to me and my parents which is why he loves me so much.)

But pre-cousin, and before her husband had his stroke, I used to spend a lot of time with them. In the summer, my parents would sometimes leave me at her house and I would swim in her daughter’s pool while she laid on the deck and made her skin into leather. (On other days I went to my grandma’s house, but she had no pool.) Aunt Bert never learned to drive, but Uncle Dick would take us in their Caprice down to Old Saybrook. They would go to Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips and I would go to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. (I don’t eat fish.) Then we would go to the miniature golf place, not to play golf, but to park in their lot and walk on the beach. (The same beach where the photos on page one were taken.) Aunt Bert would collect rocks to put in her garden. (I inherited the "rocks in the garden" gene from her.) Sometimes my parents went too. I can remember Uncle Dick teaching me how to rip the top straight off a packet of ketchup (instead of the corner) so I could dip my french fries without having to make a puddle (we were eating in the car in a McDonald’s parking lot.)I don’t remember how old I was when Uncle Dick had his stroke, but it had to be around the time my cousin was born. Aunt Bert cared for him at home. He had problems speaking and got very frustrated. She cared for him about ten years before he died. If I remember right, he fell (perhaps due to another stroke) and hit his head on the cast-iron radiator in the living room and died in the hospital. I was sent to my great-grandma’s house for his funeral; I think I was around 15 so I must have been around 5 when he had his stroke. Which makes my Arthur Treacher’s memories 30+ years old. Wow.

My aunt used to sew Barbie clothes. She made the most beautiful little outfits. I wish I had saved some but all my Barbie stuff went to W and she destroyed it all. I don’t like her much and won’t be talking about her.

My grandma is almost exactly a month older than Aunt Bert (and Uncle Dick and Grandpa were less than a month apart, both born in October 1916). This Sunday we were talking about Aunt Bert. My grandmother remembers how pretty Aunt Bert was. Every week she set her hair in old-fashioned pin curls (winding her hair around bobby pins). She always wore make-up, not gaudy old-lady make-up but tasteful, lipstick mostly, and she painted her nails. She was a big, solid German woman (her parents were immigrants) who thought nothing of working outside all day in the hot sun in her yard. She mowed her own lawn and shoveled her own snow (by hand). That is why it’s so sad to see her thin and frail, unable to walk up the stairs.

When I was in high school and college, my parents used to walk with Aunt Bert several nights a week. We’d drive to Aunt Bert’s house and set off from there. We had a nice route with several options on how far we could go. I think the biggest loop was around 7 miles. I’d have my walkman on and range ahead or behind them as the mood struck me.

Aunt Bert always had a bad leg, the left one. Not sure what was wrong with it (IS wrong with it, it still bothers her). She’d get these nasty ulcerous sores which oozed. When her leg was bad, she didn’t walk with us. She has to wear a pressure stocking, kind of like an ace-bandage. When I was small, she was in the pool with me (a rare thing, usually she just laid on the deck) and I kicked her by accident, in the bad leg. I know she didn’t talk to my parents for a while after that, blaming me (I had to be younger than 8, because it was pre-cousin) because the sores flared up again.

I guess I am recording all these memories of her because she’s got none of me. That is very sad, because I did (do) love her. But her lack of memory does NOT invalidate all the good times I had with her, or the fact that once upon a time she loved me like a grandmother.

I talk to my students about cutting karmic ties. Karmic ties are about conditional love. Do you really want someone to love you because they are supposed to, because karma has locked you together? Wouldn’t you rather cut the karma and see if they love you “just because”? Often my students freak out. “What if I cut the karmic ties to my friend and she doesn’t like me anymore?” Then why be friends with someone like that? You don’t need her. A big thing is to cut karmic ties to those who are no longer in our lives, especially the dead. That’s always touchy. Your karmic ties can hold your departed loved one to this plane of existence. Is that what you want? Is that how you show your love? I love you so much I won’t let you go to where you need to be? (Talk about conditional love!) Cutting the ties does not invalidate the memories or the emotions. It just gets rid of the SHOULD.

I have cut my karmic ties to Aunt Bert. The SHOULD was that I SHOULD visit her even though she doesn’t know me. Even though a visit from a stranger, as I would appear to be, would upset her. And me. And gain neither of us anything.I can’t say at this point what will happen with my father. Unlike my aunt, he will depend on me (and my mom) for his care. That puts it in a different light. (2079)

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