I admit to being envious of sick people who have supportive and caring partners and families. It sadly hasn’t been that way for me. After 18 years of marriage my parents divorced when I was just 7 years old. My Mum moved, with me, 200 miles north to be back near her own family and my Dad continued to live near his family with my brother who was 10 at the time. My Mum tried hard to keep us all in contact, making the 3 hour journey once a month so that she could see my brother and I could see my Dad, but my Dad didn’t reciprocate – I’ve now lived north for nearly 40 years and he’s never once been to visit me in all that time. He kept in touch by phone, and I always got posh birthday and Christmas presents, but that’s hardly what being a Dad is all about.
My Mum met my step-dad when I was 9 and I now think of him as my Dad. He’s the one who’s clothed me, fed me, rubbed calamine lotion on my chicken pox spots, came to school plays and parents evenings, put up with my moody teenage years and been there while I’ve been sick. I got married in 1989 and he was the one who came with me to choose my wedding dress, look at venues and worked 12 hour shifts in a freezing cold and dirty factory to pay for the entire thing. My biological Dad had no involvement with the wedding preparations but still thought he should be top dog on the day and give me away. When I explained that being as though he’d never even met my fiancé and that my step-dad was paying for the wedding I thought he should do it, my Dad stopped speaking to me. He hasn’t spoken to me since and neither have my biological brother or my paternal Aunt. I was sent to Coventry by my entire family because my Father was a rubbish Dad – I’m not sure quite how that’s my fault but there you go.
After I contracted meningitis in 1996 I was critically ill. I wrote to my biological Dad and told him I might die, couldn’t speak or walk, and that I needed specialist care that wasn’t available on the NHS. I swallowed my pride and asked if he would help pay for some inpatient treatment which might help me walk again, and he wrote back and told me to “pull myself together, there are people worse off than you”. He signed the letter using his Christian name, not even putting “Dad”. As far as I’m concerned he died that day – I couldn’t even turn my back on a sick animal, let alone my own child. It was my Mum and step-dad who used their life savings to pay for the treatment and I still feel guilty to this day that I robbed them of the financial retirement for which they’d worked their whole lives.
My step-dad had 2 sons from a previous marriage, both similar ages to me, who lived locally with their Mum but who had regular contact with their Dad. They married and had children, and my Mum looked after all of her step-grandkids for 3 days a week until they went to school so that her daughter-in-laws could work. The grandkids are now young adults and still visit their grandparents regularly. The same can’t be said of their parents. They’re quick to be on the phone when they want something (can you walk the dog, can you collect the youngest from college) but have never once taken my Mum or step-dad out for lunch on their birthdays, invited them up for Christmas dinner, been to a hospital appointment with them or helped them in their home in any way. My Mum and step-dad have been great parents and grandparents, have helped them both out financially over the years, and I’m hurt and baffled as to why my step-brothers treat them as shabbily as they do. Consequently, despite having 3 brothers and 2 Dads, my family has always just been a little unit of three: my Mum, my step-dad and me. We do everything together and I see them almost every day.
My step-brothers have had even less contact with me over the years than they’ve had with our parents. I’ve been ill now for 20 years and I think they’ve been to visit me three times, but only because I’d organised a small family party for one or other of our parent’s birthdays. While I was bedridden I once employed, at £10 an hour, one of my sisters-in-law to clean my house (at her suggestion) until she decided it was too much like hard work and quit. Other than that they act like I don’t really exist, although I was good enough to be Godparent for all of their children (because they all know I am dependable, trustworthy, have good morals and would do anything for the kids if needed), fix their computers, give them all sorts of advice (being the ‘brains’ of the family) and when one of my step-brothers was made redundant I helped him write his CV and get a new job. As far as they’re concerned our parents are my responsibility and they ignore totally the fact that I’m sick and can barely look after myself let alone two other people (one who is now very muddled and forgetful, and the other who is terminally ill). When our parents die, however, I’m sure they’ll be the first ones at the solicitor for the reading of the will.
My Mum is one of 7 children, and I have 14 cousins. Not one of whom either rang or visited me for the entire 10 years I was bedridden. Now I’m well enough to get out and about more they’re happy to meet up for coffee or lunch………so long as I organise it. If I don’t get in touch they don’t either. One of them actually has to drive past my house every day to get home but never calls in. And yet if I meet them accidentally in town they all say in surprise “I haven’t seen you in ages!” and my answer has now become “well you know where I live”. Sadly two of my Aunts have died from cancer in recent years. My Mum visited them every week (and still visits her brothers-in-law every week, no matter how ill she feels herself) and I also visited my Aunts regularly to not only see them but to offer my cousins some support. Yet my mum has been seriously ill now for 2 years and not one of my cousins has been to see her or me. But when my Mum dies they’ll all be there at the funeral, weeping and wailing and saying how lovely their Aunty Anne was. It makes my blood boil.
When I hear about people who live alone and have no contact with their families I instinctively think they must be weird, reclusive or somehow difficult to get along with. Why else would a family shun one of its own? But I’ve learned from bitter experience that this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m at a loss as to why my parents and I are treated with such a lack of regard, despite being good, caring, kind, generous people who have only ever acted with integrity and thought for others.
Three years ago, after not having spoken to me in over 20 years, my biological brother contacted my Mum to say he’d made a huge mistake and wanted to patch things up with me. I gave it a lot of thought, but decided that I’d put the relationship behind me a long time ago. I’m not angry, or bitter, or resentful…….I simply no longer need him. Making up was more about him assuaging his own guilt rather than any real affection for me. So I let it be.
If you have caring, loving, supportive family in your life, be grateful for them every day. We’re not all quite so lucky.