(This is the third in a series of “Ryan,” a patient of mine who has MS. I serve as his amanuensis.)
I love my family. That is for sure. There is nothing that is more important to me than my family. I think of them daily, if not hourly. I think of my wife. I think of my daughters and their husbands. I think of my many grandchildren, some of whom are now adults or soon to be. Family: what a wonderful part of life: you love them, you enjoy them, you look forward to seeing them. You laugh with them and cry with them. Can anything be so wonderful as loving people who have your heart, and most of them have your blood.
There are lots of things that go along with family, lots of statements that are often made in regards to family, like”
- Family first
- Family is never wrong
- Family will never leave you
- Family will always accept you
- Family forgives you
- Family is right even when they are wrong
- Always support your family.
All true, and I believe all these things. I can think of nothing that is more important to me, not ideas, not things, not beliefs, not things, and certainly not money. Blood is thicker than water, right? Am I missing anything here? Perhaps one thing: family, and all that goes with it, is…difficult.
We don’t have to look far to see that family problems are all over the place. It seems that the more money and fame you have, the more likely you will be divorced. How many times was Elizabeth Taylor divorced? Nine times, I think. And all those other actors whose faces you see in the grocery store, and all those millionaire baseball players. The lot seems to have trouble, at least with their marital relationships, and often with their children. How many “tell all” books have been written about these famous actors and actresses who seem to have been less than model parents. But I am not so concerned about these rich folks as I am about us normal folks who just may struggle with various family difficulties. Does every kid have ADHD and every parent suffer from bi-polar disorder?
Forgive me, but I was born in 1946 at a time when we didn’t have all these diagnoses. I might have been diagnosed ADHD had that diagnosis been around in the 1950’s when I was a kid, or any number of other diagnoses that are now around for everyone to choose from. I may not have been the best parent with my girls but I can’t say that I ever thought of them as having some kind of “disorder.” There were times they didn’t like me, and I must admit there were times that I didn’t like them very much. But we stuck it out and they have done pretty well in life despite my flawed parenting. Thank goodness for my wife who did the bulk of the “parenting.” I don’t even think that the word parenting was ever in my vocabulary. Most of my vocabulary with regards to the girls was “no” when they wanted those $45 jeans when you could buy a pair for $12 at Walmart. When they used to ask my wife for something, she would say, “Ask your father.” But then they would respond with, “You know what he’s going to say: no.” I did my best, but it might not have been good enough. Glad they have turned out so well. Things are not so well in the present, however.
If you’ve been bored enough to read my previous Life of Brian series, you know that I have this minor medical difficulty that has kept me somewhat limited in what I can do. I have multiple sclerosis. I can’t do much of anything but sit around like a bump on a log, and I can’t even do that. I am more like the bump or the log, just sitting there. But I don’t want to go over my physical state. I want to talk about family as it relates to my physical state. The most important thing is still this: I love my family. Love them to death. And…they’re difficult.
They’re not difficult because they are difficult. They’re difficult because I’m difficult. All those things I said about family, like loving them to death and valuing them above all else: all of this is true even though I can’t lift a finger to help them out. I can’t actually lift a finger. Wish I could. But I can’t. No way to change that save some kind of miracle by God’s hands or some remarkable scientific discovery that can cure MS. Not likely to happen. In the mean time I have my family: love them and all the rest…but can’t seem to find a way to be a family man. God, what I’d give to be able to lift a finger, or lift a grandchild. Or lift anything. No such luck. So, family is difficult, or rather I am difficult when I am relating to family. And I expect that they feel the difficulty of my being difficult.
Can’t blame them. I have to admit that I am difficult. I think about being “difficult” a lot, especially about my family. Who would want to see a father, grandfather, or husband who is the bump on the log that I talked about. Can’t stand up when they come in the room. Can’t get down on the floor. Can’t go to the grandkid’s graduation. Can’t hug. Very often I can’t even speak when this damned MS attacks my voice box only letting me whisper. And lots more “can’t’s.” So, I get it. I’m difficult. And this makes “family” difficult for me. Still love them to death. Still would do anything I can do, which isn’t much. Still hold them all in high esteem. But it is difficult being me with my family.
I think I have it better than many other residents here in the nursing home. Some of these people never see any of their family members for one reason or another. Some don’t have any family and they’re just…I don’t know, waiting to die? Some have someone who visits from the state of Oregon once a year. Some have family members who come to visit them, but obviously they don’t really want to visit; they just put their time in. So, I know that I’m not the only guy in this “difficult to be me” situation. But it still sucks. Certainly, would be nice to have this situation be less than difficult, but this is what I have. The whole situation leaves me in a bit of a quandary: I don’t like it, don’t like this lonely thing not seeing my family very much, but I understand it. I just don’t like it. Yeah, I can live with it. I have been living with it for years, now decades really. And the difficulty of who I am (now) and the condition that I am in has only become more difficult.
I hope this doesn’t sound like so much bitching. I’m not complaining. I’m just telling you how I feel. It’s not about what’s wrong with people. It’s not what’s wrong with my family. It’s not even what’s wrong with me. It’s not what’s wrong with anything. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love things to be different. I’d love to be walking and talking like a normal person. And I’d love to have family and friends visit me. But for now, I’m just feeling that life is difficult. Ron tells me that there was some very popular book written 25 years ago called The Road Less Traveled that began with the statement, Life is difficult.
Life of Ryan I and II