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Friday, April 08, 2011

Memories, Guilt and Salvation

Unbidden Memories

The mind is a strange and mysterious thing. Full of doors that open when we least expect it. One of those doors opened, flooding me with memories of my mother. She was my first direct encounter with the complications that can befall a person with diabetes. Her life and death have been a major influence on my motivation to control the condition she passed to me that did not manifest its self until late in my life.

I remember how my mother stubbornly cut her own toenail, and in the process cut herself. She hid it from all of the family until it was too late. We only discovered it when we were forced to take action and hurry her to the hospital. We saved her life, but she ended up losing her leg to just below her knee.

She suffered from depression, and guilt all her life. Diabetes made her condition become much worse. There was a nagging thought in my mind that she did not ask for help because she wanted to punish herself for things that happened to her during an abusive childhood. It seemed that she saw her diabetes as a death sentence for the crime of not being able to defend herself all those years ago. Toxic shame can poison your life if you allow it to. And in her case it was fatal.

I was the person who became the primary care giver in the last months of her life. We spent that time talking, working through things left unsaid for so many years. We both knew this was the last chance to share time together. I found ways to prepare her favorite foods in a healthier version. I did what I could to make her life easier, healthier and more enjoyable. I had her blood glucose levels stable, her numbers were as close to what a normal healthy non-diabetic person's would be.

In the end it was blood poisoning from the dialysis that claimed her life. She had a "do not resuscitate" order on file and there was nothing we could do to extend her life. To me it was a bitter pill to swallow. I nearly choked to death on it. I had the curse of the firstborn. We were brought up to be the strong fixer of problems, perfect and all knowing. Frustration and grief led to profound guilt. I was Prometheus bound to the rock of guilt while a great eagle ate my liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next.

Generational guilt can be a hard thing to break. It expresses it's self in every member of the family touched by it. It is like a chain wrapped around your family tree. It took me a long time to see how it held me and break free. My way to freedom was through Bradshaw's work on co-dependence and family dynamics. Suing for peace with myself was not easy. Nothing that is fundamentally life changing ever is. We pick our battles and seek the place where we can find strength to build a better life on the ashes of the past.

We either learn from the past or are forced to relive it. Her tragedy and loss was not in vain. It has made me more aware and proactive in managing my diabetes. For that I am eternally grateful and will cherish the memories of the good times. And I remember the bad times too, so I may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think she would feel proud and be at peace knowing that after all her suffering some good came from it.

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