March 2, 2023

maybe it'll help to share: tales of the fake therapist (pace yourself)

I have a draft ready to post, but I'm gonna share this in hopes that I'll feel better. I'm fine. Well, I'll be fine. This too shall pass, as they say. I apologize for the length.

My blog friend, Pat, commented Monday:  I'm so glad that you and Coach are having some fun times in the midst of a lot of heaviness. *So true. What a great couple of weekends. 

Then . . . on Sunday a few hours after we got home, I met my sisters at Ann's house. 

Marie took a photo of this
picture that apparently
 hangs in Uncle's house.
I'd never seen it before.
 It's me and Tommy.
I broke down when
she showed me. I don't
 normally share images
 of me - but this looks
NOTHING like me now.
Marie and my brother, Pat, were in Texas after my cousin died. At Uncle's insistence, Marie brought back Aunt's good jewelry for us to divide. Talk about heavy, (and I don't mean that she wore gold bars around her neck). We sat staring at the jewelry, not wanting to claim anything. Marie talked a bit about Uncle and things that he said or how he is doing, etc. She cried. 

I finally said that if no one else wanted it, I'd take the locket. It's engraved with my aunt's initials. Inside are two photos. One of 'Tommy' and the other of 'Elizabeth.' 


That made me cry.


When I was in 2nd grade, Aunt and Uncle went on a vacation. He was a doctor and I think it was a conference. They were going to be gone for over a week. I accompanied my paternal grandma to babysit Elizabeth and Tommy. Elizabeth was in 1st grade and Tommy was 4. I felt VERY important, pretty sure I tried to carry Grandma's suitcase at the airport. We were gone for 2 weeks.

My cousins were a handful. Their parents were 'soft' - easy to walk all over, and the kids could be demanding. They hollered at Grandma at times and acted like she didn't really know what she was doing. I helped her out, mostly entertaining the kids and urged them not to be naughty for Grandma.

I'm sitting opening gifts
wearing 'the dress.'
When Aunt returned, she and Grandma took me shopping. They were going to pick out a new dress for me, as a thank you. As the youngest of 3 girls, new dresses did not materialize ever often. I think I had a VERY specific image of what this dress would be. Although we checked out the inventory at MANY stores, nothing matched my vision. 
3rd grade photo - oh, look
what I'm wearing.

Finally Aunt and Grandma had a loud chat in the front seat about what a shame it was that I hadn't liked the brown one at Whatever-Store. "It was so special and Ernie's mom would LOVE it." Mention an 8 year old's mother after she hasn't seen her in 2 weeks? Sold.  

My dress search had exhausted them. After saying yes to the dress, I proudly wore it every chance I got. 

For the longest time, that trip counted as my WIN. If a neighbor had an extra ticket to a show - I wasn't chosen. "Ernie, you got to go to Texas."  Eventually it became a running joke, because HOLY HELL - COULD MY GOOD FORTUNE EVER EXPIRE?

Anyway, Uncle (Dad's only sibling) came in town a few times a year, or we went there. We begged our cousins to say AROUND THE HOUSE, to accentuate their drawl. We vacationed together a handful of times.

At Disney, Elizabeth was in a beautiful white dress. She was a princess, and it had nothing to do with Disney. In her own world, she danced in front of a marching band that had to stop because they couldn't get past her - captured on one of our family video reels. Hilarious.


Tommy was diagnosed with OCD when he was a freshman in high school. After a negative reaction to Prozac, they planned to see the doctor the next day. He took his life in his bedroom that night. Elizabeth heard something from his room, but everything she did agitated him. She didn't investigate. I don't think she ever forgave herself. 

It was Feb, my freshman year in college. Seeing Grandma and Grandpa huddled in the corner of Uncle's Texas house saying their rosaries when we arrived from the airport was unbearable. 

Afterwards, Elizabeth would only talk to me. My folks called me at college regularly:  WE NEED YOU TO CALL HER. I'd report back. They'd get word to Aunt and Uncle. What Elizabeth needed, how she was feeling, etc. 

It was 1990, not 1900. How did someone not know that this was a lot to ask of me? The phone calls went on for some time. My sophomore year Elizabeth enrolled at Notre Dame. Our folks thought being near all of us (Pat, Marie, and I were at ND or Saint Mary's) would be good for her. She didn't finish out her freshman year. Had a mental health crisis that was rough for Maire because Marie was an RA in her dorm. Elizabeth was brilliant. Truly. I think she worked in her Uncle's office for awhile. She was always unstable. She always lived with her parents. 

At my wedding when the bridesmaids were called to come up to the altar, Elizabeth (not a bridesmaid) stood in her pew. She just stood there. I didn't see it happen, but I heard about it. In the receiving line, she asked:  SO IS IT A WHITE WEDDING? She liked to push the envelope.

I saw her now and then when she came in town with her folks to visit our grandparents. Aunt passed away in'18 after surgery to fix an aneurism, maybe. Uncle has cancer. He's been getting treatment for over a year, but I think it's in his bones. 

Then, Elizabeth killed herself a few weeks ago. 

I carry some guilt for not doing more. Not reaching out regularly. After Grandma died our dads drifted, I think. I sent Christmas cards and get well cards. Could I have done more? Probably. Would it have mattered? My guess is no. 

When I drove to JB's funeral last January with my sisters (remember I hid under my coat to read my book), Marie said she'd been emailing Elizabeth per Dad's request. Did I feel like my 'job' had been reassigned? Yes, I did. I also knew that I wasn't equipped to fix what Elizabeth had going on and Marie was never close to Elizabeth but she'd jump through any hoop to please Dad. 


Good grief. Marie talked about how she felt bad because Elizabeth had no friends. 


Seriously? The girl had a tough life and struggled with mental illness. 

Marie and Ann think Elizabeth feared being alone after Uncle passed. It's hard to wrap my brain around the fact that she's gone and that she, too, killed herself. The whole time Marie and Pat were in Texas, I kept picturing Elizabeth at the house with them. Uncle wants to remain in Texas - won't move to Chicago to be near all of us. He has lived there forever and has many friends. He needs to move to a retirement community because he doesn't drive. I think he also can't live in that house anymore. He's had to endure SO much.

Layers:  When Marie called to tell me Elizabeth died, she shared that she'd planned to take Dad to Texas in March, that she'd been emailing Elizabeth for awhile - until Elizabeth stopped responding, that Uncle wanted Elizabeth to travel -so Marie agreed to meet them in Yellowstone with Dad in May. 

Dad converses with me about very little. If I stop by my folks' house and Marie calls while I'm there Dad will chat endlessly. Marie-in-the-loop. Me-on-the-perimeter, not really counting. 

My college roomie has known the family dynamics for years. She was around when Tommy died. She asked me a few weeks ago:  What is missing in Marie's life that she constantly seeks approval from your parents?

Both of my sisters crave control. They're struggling for power over who is running the show. It's Marie, she's Dad's right hand. Ann is coming unglued. I'd like control over who coaches our varsity basketball team, so I get it to some extent - but I like to think I stopped drinking the lemonade years ago. 

Comedic relief:  little Miss
pulled her pony tail out, added some
 food and there you have it:  troll hair.

I witnessed Ann's frustration at the jewelry thing, and I feel for her. She'd hoped to fly down with Dad to then drive 5 hours to a museum to donate 5 Navajo rugs that Aunt collected. The museum is going to create an exhibit in her honor, etc. The museum guy can't meet that day, so now Marie is gonna go with Dad. It's uncomfortable to watch it play out. 

My brother, Mike, and I are flying down this weekend (I'm flying to Dallas tonight, staying with Dee and Maurice - then fly out in the am). We plan to get Uncle out of the house. Take him out to eat, nothing fancy. He'd like to go to some canyon and bird watch. Guessing my bird watching friends will be envious.  

Me to Dad on the phone Tues night:  SO, NOT SURE IF YOU'VE MET MY SISTERS, BUT THEY BOTH HAVE CONTROL ISSUES. ANN REALLY WANTED TO BE INVOLVED WITH THE MUSEUM EXHIBIT. *It didn't help. He's doing it with Marie and he told me he knows Ann's upset - she hollered at him. 

Well, it's a lot. Anyway you slice it. Mom mentioned to me the other day how hard it was for Marie to live in the dorm with Elizabeth. On Sunday, Marie admitted she didn't feel like she went out of her way for Elizabeth in the dorm. I'm pretty sure my role as the fake therapist has been long forgotten. At the jewelry dividing,  jewelry staring, I wept, describing my fake therapist ordeal to my sisters.


I felt better after sharing that with them, and now you. I'm sure my folks were just grieving and grasping at how to help Aunt and Uncle, but it took a toll. 


 I can't go into details, but OCD has struck again recently. Distance is complicating things. Given the above, it's weighing very heavily on my mind. 

I'm self-medicating.
I found some forgotten
peppermint bark in the dining room
fridge leftover from Christmas.


I so appreciate your reading. No need to offer condolences. It goes without saying. My heart breaks for Uncle - a gentle, kind soul. 

Instead, I'd love to hear about a time you got a treat that refused to expire (like my trip to Texas), Ever see anyone stop a show at Disney? A disgruntled non-bridesmaid? Anyone say AROUND THE HOUSE funny? A mom I sit for thinks I look like a boy in that photo.  Me: Have we not talked about this? Are the scars not visible? Go ahead, tell me how boyish I was - you won't be wrong.


Nicole said...

Oh, Ernie. I am so sorry about the loss of your cousin. Mental illness is so awful, and losing someone to suicide is a whole other ballgame, in terms of pain. I am so sorry you're going through this.

In terms of that photo: I cut my hair in grade 6 to look like Madonna in Papa Don't Preach, and it was a terrible mistake. Huge.

Beth Cotell said...

It's all so heartbreaking. I have no comic relief stories and have never been to Disney it sounds to me like a not very fun place to go.

I'm assuming I'm one of your bird loving friends. Let's not mention the fact that I spent yesterday trying to figure out if the bird in my feeder was a nuthatch or a chickadee. :)

Prayers for you and your whole family.

Busy Bee Suz said...

So much sadness and so many layers to this complicated family story. My heart breaks for your Uncle; he's been dealt a bad hand and I pray his goodness pays off in the afterlife.

Your sisters. Goodness. What can one say about them that you don't already know? I AM so happy that you shared some things with them that you'd been holding in. Good for you!

Coming from a one-sibling childhood and parents that were kind of checked out, there were not favors....for anyone! LOL

Love the Dr. Suess hairdo on your little Miss.

So sorry about the OCD issue that is showing up. XO

Bijoux said...

That’s rough. It seems as though some families are plagued by tragedies. It’s hard to watch. I’m sorry.

I don’t think you look like a boy in that picture. I had the same haircut in my kindergarten picture. It’s a classic ‘do!

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

For your family to have lost both of these siblings this way... what a tragedy, Ernie. I'm so sorry. My heart goes out to you and to your whole family. What a terrible string of losses you've had to endure. I am glad you have the locket to keep close to you. It sounds like you were an extremely supportive cousin, in ways that shouldn't have been yours to bear.

I do have a similar "trip to Texas" kind of situation, but it's dumb and I feel petty even feeling resentful about it. I am irritated at your past family for holding your trip over you for so long!

Love the story of the dress. It sounds very special. And I had an unfortunate haircut for many years. It was kind of a mullet, I guess, where it was a bowl cut around my head but the back was long. Sigh. Why did anyone think that was a good idea?

Pat Birnie said...

Just such a sad situation. I cannot fathom what your uncle is going through. Losing both kids to suicide. There are no words

I do get how excited you were about the NEW dress. I am the youngest of 4 girls and I can still remember when I was 11 getting my first new clothing items - not one, but two new sweaters! That no one had ever worn before! One was emerald green and one was rust colour - keep in mind this was over 50 years ago and I still remember the colours!

Ernie said...

Nicole - Thank you. It really is hard to believe that it happened again. It's awful.

I had to google Madonna in Papa Don't Preach. Yikes, that must've been a challenge to grow out. Mine was inspired by Dorothy Hamel. My mom liked it that way, so she insisted I keep it that short.

Ernie said...

Beth - Thank you. I love Disney, but I'm lately the cost of it sounds so over-the-top. So much for family friendly.

I have no idea what either of those birds looks like, but I'll be sure to let you know if I learn anything bird-related.

My brother's flight this afternoon was cancelled. Dallas is having weather apparently. My flight to Dallas is at 6:20 tonight. I'm bracing for a challenging evening. Ugh.

Ernie said...

Suz - It really is sad. It is so horrible that he has to go through this again while he is battling cancer and all alone. From what I've heard, his friends and neighbors are amazing.

You should see the spreadsheet Marie sent all of us last night. If we need to pick up a RX for Uncle, we'll need his birthday. She wouldn't share his b-day in an email, but we can call her for it. Wait a minute - is Uncle undercover for the CIA. It isn't his SS#, it's his birthday. Regardless, I won't be calling Marie. I can just ask Uncle.

Good grief, I think I FINALLY lived down that trip to Texas like last year. It sometimes felt like it cost me more than it was worth. ;)

The next day her pony stayed in. She always sits on my lap when I read a book at naptime. Her hair was tickling my nose so much that the other kids were dying laughign. I kept blowing her hair away so I could read.

The timing of this thing. Last time we thought it was long covid, and therapy eventually helped. Not gonna lie, it's pretty challenging.

Ernie said...

Bijoux - I agree. There is a family in town who lost the dad to brain cancer. Then about 4 or 5 years later the college age boy was in an accident and died. Only the mom and daughter are left. I know them to see them - he always had the lead roles in the high school drama department. It is hard to imagine.

My short hairdo was inspired by Dorothy Hamel. It was cute - but it wore out it's welcome after 10 years. My mom insisted on it. I'm still bitter.

Ernie said...

Suzanne - Truly tragic. Yes, it is. Not sure how they went on after Tommy died. Not sure they did. It was all so hard to process. He was so very young. Mental illness can be so cruel.

I think I finally lost it and hollered at everyone THAT TEXAS TRIP WAS 8 YEARS AGO, or something to that effect. Seriously. Let it go, people. Then it became a joke, of course - as with anything that left me feeling treated unfairly.

Mini now tells me that she hated the bob haircut that I gave her a few times. It was really cute and she didn't complain at the time, but I've done my best to let my kids have control over their own hair. The 70s and 80s were tough times for hairstyles. A mullet? Eek. I believe it though.

Ernie said...

Pat - That poor man. We used to be so excited when he came in town. He was the super chill, intellectual uncle. My dad was always upset or tense or hollering at us for something or another. When Uncle came to visit, we would could ask my dad to take us for ice cream or the beach and nothing riled him. He would go along with anything and we all knew it was because his bro had a calming presence. I've been busy getting meals ready and laundry done so that I can leave, but I don't think I am really READY emotionally. I haven't been in that house for 33 years.

I remember so many details of my childhood clothes - it comes as no surprise to me. So few things were brand new to me. Rust and green sweaters - I'm sure they were super cute and so appreciated.

ccr in MA said...

My heart aches for you, for your uncle, for poor Elizabeth. I'm glad that your sisters had at least a brief moment of realization when you told them about the therapy thing.

My best friend when I was little had that exact haircut! She is a little bitter about it when she looks at old photos. She did look better once she got the Farah Fawcett, I think, but hey, the bowl cut was cute too.

Amanda said...

Your poor uncle. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.

As someone with curly hair I'll say it took a long, long time to figure it out and the frizz was real. I'm slightly jealous of the little girls I know whose mom's deal with their curls daily and will never have to go through the frizz. Though my worst haircut was when I was maybe 19. I found this super cute shorter cut and then the hairdresser gave me an old lady perm cut (all natural, no perm needed) instead. Only time I cried about my hair. Plus it was back when I was dying it red so I looked a bit like a teenage Orphan Annie.

Ally Bean said...

You ask, Ever see anyone stop a show at Disney?

Not at Disney but I did at Sea World. A man in the audience stood up mid-show, grasped his heart, and keeled over from a heart attack. The show stopped instantly because one of the human performers on stage saw what happened, pointed, and that was that. We were all asked to stay in our seats while the EMTs, who appeared from nowhere, scrambled to get to the guy-- and then carry him away. A memorable show, but not in a happy way [unless you consider the speed with which the man got medical attention].

joymariecooks said...

I don't have any comic relief stories today. Just wanted to say that I've lost a teenage cousin to suicide (10 years ago last month) and I understand the pain of it all. Hugs.

Ernie said...

ccr - Thanks. I appreciate that. It is hard to fathom.

So your friend went from the Dorothy Hamel to the Farah? I think this is a cute photo, but most of the time I looked icky. Especially once I got glasses.

Ernie said...

Amanda - Thank you.

My mother never knew anything about product. Frizz was real and life without product was insufferable. I once had a perm (before I realized I had curly hair - it was curly from puberty on, now not quite so much - I blame childbirth, hormones and the thinning caused by celiac) and my hair was still pretty short. The woman used the granny sized rods. It was HORRENDOUS.

Ernie said...

Ally - I think I prefer the kind of show shopper that is a little girl in a fancy white dress, oblivious of the world around her. Glad the responders were fast in that situation.

Ernie said...

joymarie - Thank you for sharing that. I'm sorry you've dealt with it as well. It is a difficult grieving process. Incredibly sad.

Nicola said...

Hi Ernie, I am so sorry about your cousin. Mental illness is so hard, and the ripples are felt by so many. I am sure you know this with Lad. (I haven't read your blog for very long, but I have gathered he struggles). As someone who has treatment resistant depression for 17+ years and still live my parents I hate the burden it is on my parents and family. I am aware I am so lucky that I have parents who are financially able to support me since I can't work full time (both physical and mental illness, all previous full time jobs have led to huge fall out) and are understanding. But at the same time I SO wish it wasn't like this. And I'm doing all the things - diet, exercise, meds, therapy etc etc. And am now recycling meds and combos, and have done both rTMS and ketamine. Dying by suicide leaves so many questions for those left behind and there is seldom much more that you could have done, especially in living in another place and not being super close to her. But despite knowing that intellectually the guilt is hard to get rid of.

I think it is probably important for your uncle to stay where he is. Yes, it makes it much harder for everyone to visit him, but the friendships built over a lifetime and the familiarity of an area cannot be underestimated. My granny, who is 93, lives an 8hr drive/2hr flight away, but she doesn't want to move and in a way we don't want her to either. We also know she is getting excellent care in the frail care (she only moved to frail care two years ago after breaking her hip, she previously was in her own course in a retirement village) and you never know with those things. If we moved her to us in Cape Town her care would be significantly more expensive - bigger city - and we don't know if she would be happy in a home here. She is intellectually 'with it' and knows all the nurses etc.

Sorry for the essay comment! 😂 Thinking of you all in the midst of a very hard season and hoping you are able to such the joy out of every small moment you can when they come. Even if it is small things like Dr Seuss hair.

Kari said...

I don't know what to say other than I am really sorry for all of this loss. Sending you so much love. Eat away. 😘💕

Ernie said...

Nicola - I'm sorry to learn of your struggles. Great that you have family to offer their support. We don't plan to move Uncle up here, but we wish that was the answer as we'd all like to be closer to him. His neighbors and friends are simply amazing and devoted.

Ernie said...

Kari - Thank you. It is so hard to comprehend. I've been taking that advice quite seriously. ;)

Bibliomama said...

Oof. I'm so sorry, what a terrible thing. Some families seem to get so much more than their portion of sadness. Your poor uncle. It's good that you can be clear-eyed about your sisters' hysterical need for your parents' approval. And "it was her own fault" she didn't have friends? Jesus, thanks for the compassion.

Ernie said...

Ali - It really is hard to imagine such sadness. I agree, some families really have more than seems bearable. Years ago when my dad was thrown from a horse in Yellowstone, my bestie was like HMM, I THOUGHT ANN WAS MY LEAST FAV SISTER - BUT MARIE IS REALLY DRIVING ME NUTS. I was like THEY ARE BOTH NUTS. Stressful times like this really show people's true colors. It isn't pretty. Little Miss I'M-YOUR-FAV,-RIGHT? and Little Miss MISSING-A-COMPASSION-CHIP are a bit much.