It has been a turbulent few days - emotionally - since my brother, Vinny passed away. Not for any reasons having to do with Vinny - he and I have always been square - but as is so often the case, having to do with tensions among surviving family members. Ain't it always the way?
As I try to make sense of all that transpired, a few things reveal themselves to me. Some I am already painfully - or not so painfully - aware of; others have a newness or freshness about them; a few even provide further insight into my own state of being and continued need for introspection and support.
It is quite clear to me that the source of all the bruised feelings and burdened communiqués was simply - intolerance. The details can bog one down, so I will make every effort to be economical with my words in providing them.
A few of you were very kind to me when I revealed my brother's death here on Living Without God - A Life of Reason in my last post, Good Bye, Vinny. This post - or tribute - to Vinny was at the very center of the firestorm. When I shared it with a couple of siblings, they were equally kind and positive in their reactions. My sister so much so that she suggested I read it at the end of Vinny's funeral service when people are invited to say a few words in remembrance of the one lost. My response was quite agreeable and I thought it would be both a loving gesture as well as emotionally valuable experience.
Then came the hitch. My sister made what now appears to be a mistake in retrospect. She told my mother that I had written a very lovely tribute to Vinny and that I was going to read it at the end of the service. (It was to be a religious service - a Catholic one - to be precise.) As I have revealed in a few of my posts, I believe my mother to be seriously burdened with mental illness, much of it in the form of religious delusion; but I have been equally adamant in my belief that her condition would likely respond favorably to the attention of competent and caring mental health professionals.
Reading this tribute to Vinny did not sit well with my mother. It wasn't the message - she hadn't even read it - it was the messenger! Because I am self-professed in my atheism, my mother did not think it right that I speak at Vinny's service. Then she suggested the only way she would allow this to happen would be if she could speak after me. My mother either did not want the words of an avowed atheist to go unchallenged or to be spoken at all within the confines of a Catholic funeral service. Her response reeked of intolerance. I will say this: If celebrating kindness, compassion, love and triumph of the human spirit is a secular evil - then I plead guilty.
My sister felt, or claimed, that given my mother's fragile state, my words could possibly invite a tit-for-tat and inappropriately escalating response - sort of like the beginning of a nuclear war, I suppose. One of my brothers even wrote to me in an email that I should "not go out of my way to inflict this gratuitous hurt on someone who has already seen so much pain in her life." This brother, who did read Good Bye, Vinny, either honestly believed that not reading my gift was the sensible thing to do, or as I suspect, was merely kowtowing to my mother's perverse conditions because he is, as all of my siblings are, afraid to stand up to her. (Just last week my sister very proudly told me she recently stood up to my mother for the first time in her adult life. Sadly, my mother intimidates these people.)
My brothers and sisters believe my mother to be the virtual equivalent of a sociopath - beyond even the reach of medical professionals. I don't think they understand that geriatric psychiatry is a medical field unto itself or that religious delusion is a symptom of mental illness; or, if they do understand these things, they simply feel she can survive without intervention. Maybe she can. But what kind of life is just surviving? Appropriate care would open up the possibility of not just surviving - but thriving.
Cutting to the chase . . . Toward the end of the service, one of the two celebrants presiding invited anyone who wanted to say a few words about Vinny to do so. Believing my mother would be just fine, I left my seat and motioned toward the lectern to share my brief tribute. My sister, from just a few feet away, very loudly blurted out, "No, Billy, no. We're not doing that." Not believing my ears, I glanced toward the inviting priest and said, "I'm sorry. Were we invited to say a few words?" The priest calmly nodded in the affirmative. But again my sister loudly objected, "No. No. Nobody is speaking." You can't make this stuff up! (I convinced myself that maybe I didn't hear the priest say what I thought he said - he wasn't speaking very loudly - so I returned to my seat. Had I been certain we were, in fact, invited to speak I would have continued on and read my tribute.)
The priest seemed bewildered by what had just transpired in front of him. At least one other person, a cousin of mine, who also motioned to speak, retreated in mild disbelief. If we were allowed to share our feelings, I'm sure others no doubt would have been made to feel comfortable enough to share one or two remembrances of their own. A golden opportunity for a few intimate moments was lost - all because a sibling or two felt tiptoeing around my mother was the sensible thing to do.
My daughter was so upset at what she witnessed, she immediately left the service, went outside and began crying on the church steps. After the service a few people tried to console her telling her that "we all have to forgive [Grandma]. We know how sick she is."
Lost in all this is, of course, my brother Vinny. These unfortunate events took focus away from the real purpose of the gathering which was to celebrate his life. Being denied the opportunity to do this very thing left Jami, Alycia and I feeling mistreated. We had to move on, however - I had to move on. Only I wondered how I would do this and yet still do justice to all that my anger was telling me.
I'll soon share how I began this process in Legacy of Pain, Part II.
3 years ago