Looks to me like the minute you think you’ve got the fix for all your problems, that’s an invitation for the universe to test you. Families. There’s nothing like illness to bring families together in the most challenging way, or is that just my family?
My 89 year old mother has had knee replacement surgery, eight days later, she’s not yet medically fit for discharge. My 60 year old brother arrives on the scene from abroad. He’s the prodigal son, and, as always, my mum is so delighted, she’s telling everyone on the ward about her wonderful son.
Imagine you have a brother who left home and became an actor. He’s a good actor and becomes a big star, I mean huge. Let’s imagine it’s Brad Pitt. Every now and then, Brad comes home to visit the family. When he does, everyone, and I mean everyone, family, friends, neighbours, people in shops, restaurants, complete strangers, they are all over him (except you, you are the only one who’s not that stupid) and it’s all; ”Hi Brad! How’re you, mate? Great to see you! Let me buy you a drink!”
Brad is full of charm, he flashes his cash and tells story after story about himself, everybody is rapt. He knows how to schmooze, every person feels like they’re getting his undivided attention, that some of the magic is rubbing off on them. Now they can say they’ve met him, that they know him personally, that he’s their mate. Brad has a formula and it really works, flash a bit of cash and use the old charm, people will believe anything if you massage their egos. He’s always the centre of attention, he’s always the life and soul of the party. The prodigal son that any parent would be proud of. He’s been keeping the party going his whole life and he can’t stop now, he’s hit sixty and his worst nightmare is that the party ever stops.
Well, that’s my brother. He isn’t Brad Pitt, but he’s rich and famous in his own way. He’s a legend to many and being near him makes people feel special, even if for a moment. They crave the chance to stand in the sunlight he casts. Trouble is, it’s not real sunlight, it’s all done with smoke and mirrors. To be honest, I always knew but thought, what the hey, he’s not such a bad person. Now, I see differently, he’s a damaged person, not a giver, a taker, always has been. He’s stuck in a nightmare, he’s the naked king that everybody sees wearing the finest clothes. I see his nakedness.
He came for six days, visited our mum twice because I insisted and went off partying with complete strangers the rest of the time. I always knew there was a chasm between us but now I see just how wide it is.
Brother absent, I visit mum alone and find she’s at a physio exercise class. As I sit and read my kindle, she arrives on the ward, laughing and chatting happily with the physio who asks if she enjoyed the class, “Yes,” she smiles, “it was good to mix with other people, it was lovely.” Great news, I think.
Then, she notices me and her face changes, after a moment of recognition, her face suddenly conveys pain, resignation and sorrow. I go over and ask how she is, “Dreadful,” she says. “How was your exercise class?” I ask, “Torture,” is her answer. I stay four hours whilst she tells me how miserable she is, how much pain she’s in and how much she suffers. We play her favourite game, which I brought to cheer her up, there are times when she’s absorbed and looks like she’s having fun, then she remembers not to. The nurses tell me she’s cheerful and chatty, I hear from people visiting other patients that she’s been chatting away to them. My aunt and uncle went in the day before and phoned me to say how well and improved she is. But when I’m present, apparently, she’s desperate to show me how hard her life is.