Families // Foxcatcher

The end of 2014 and 2015 so far has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. There have been two deaths, my Grandad and the mother of a close friend, and two births amongst people I know well; on top of my Grandma being diagnosed with cancer (she already has dementia). I’m feeling a lot stronger than I would have if all this had happened this time last year, and definitely this time the year before, but it’s obviously still very emotional.

I’m not close to my grandparents; they’ve always lived quite a long way away and are very keen on spending most of the year on cruises (good for them), but it’s still strange when one of them dies or when they become very ill. They’re both my mother’s parents, which makes it worse as it’s so much for her to cope with all at once. I feel like I should have made more of an effort to see my Grandad, but it’s difficult with relatives who don’t seem that interested – should you invite yourself to stay with people who are essentially strangers? With my Grandma it’s tougher because I see her a few times a year. Her second husband (her and my Grandad broke up when my mum was about 20) died several years ago and as the dementia has got worse she’s become much more lonely. It’s heartbreaking. Her and my Mum have never really got on so times when she comes to stay have always been tense. It’s like most situations with your own parents: I can never really see what the problem is, but to Mum so many of the things Grandma says are tiny barbs, or cloaked insults. I normally go home when Grandma is visiting not just to see her, but to help Mum to cope and to help Dad cope with Mum. I realised this Christmas for the first time that I also need someone to help me, but that’s me again (by taking myself for a walk mainly).

Family is such a strange thing. We see these people, often out of obligation rather than pleasure, to avoid feeling guilty the rest of the year. A study of people travelling home for the holidays in America found that for a large proportion the reason they were bumping themselves up to First Class for the trip was to make themselves feel good before they had to see their relatives. Why do we keep seeing these people if they don’t make us happy? Why do we keep striving to impress people, because they’re our relatives, even though they make us feel small? I’ve been thinking about this particularly after watching Foxcatcher yesterday, which has some very complex relationships between a mother and a son, and between two brothers. I haven’t fully worked through what I think about it all yet but these are initial thoughts. The difficulty of having a parent who is disappointed in you, and doesn’t try to hide it even when you’ve done your best, must be one of the most destructive things for a person psychologically. Competing with a sibling and always feeling second best must be almost as bad. The love that continues between the two brothers in the film, despite everything, is something else. I suppose that’s the best side of family love: supporting someone even when all they’re throwing at you is hurt and hate, because you know them well enough and you love them enough to stay, to know where it’s coming from and that it’s not you they’re trying to hit, but the pain that’s inside themselves.

Although OBVIOUSLY people having babies is wonderful news, and I’m so happy for my friends who are new parents – or parents again (congratulations Lucy and Emily!) the news of new babies is also emotional for me. There’s a little bit of me that panics every time, making me feel a step closer to deciding if it’s something I want – even though it is by no means a pressing question at the moment. I genuinely don’t know if I want to have children at all. To a lot of people that will be very strange; I know a lot of people don’t need to think about it, that it’s a given for them that they want to be a mother or a father. I really haven’t made my mind up, so every time someone else is pregnant or has a baby, I panic both that it isn’t me and that it might be me someday. It isn’t helped by watching Call the Midwife with my Grandma (most depressing programme ever! I cried about five times without even knowing who all the characters were) and watching someone give birth. She started talking about how awful it was and how she had to do it four times, which was all pretty awkward, and then she asked me if I was looking forward to it. I told her I was hoping to avoid it, but she didn’t hear me so I just said yes so that I wouldn’t get a questionnaire on whether I want children or not.

These beginnings and endings are always difficult to cope with, especially when there are so many in such a short space of time. It’s a time when you start asking yourself a lot of questions too, even though it’s probably not a good time to do so when you’re in a heightened emotional state. I hope you’ve all had a good start to 2015- congratulations to anyone with new babies, and my sympathies to anyone who has lost somebody. To the rest of you, I hope you got through the break without murdering a relative who you only see because of the pressures of social convention, even though they tell you how to boil the kettle every time you walk into the kitchen. All families are weird – you aren’t alone.

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