And then on Monday, we received the call no one wants. Da Big Kitty's paternal unit administered The Final Solution to himself.
The reasons were understandable. At 87 he wasn't exactly in failing health, but parts of him didn't work right anymore and he was frustrated by the fact that it was cutting into his independence. He foresaw a future of diapers, being deaf, blind and having no control over his life. So, after one more event that likely mortified him and peeved him in equal parts, he loaded a pistol and took care of business.
What came to light afterward was that we are positive he'd planned it. We found paperwork that he left on the bureau of his bedroom. The stuff one needs after the death of a person: birth certificate, army discharge, and a financial statement.
Initially, I was discreet and didn't give the cause of death, except to the closest of friends. I didn't figure his second family wanted the stain of suicide out there in their social sphere. However, when I heard his wife telling people he'd done that, I decided to come clean with my own posse. They needed to know what was so difficult about this particular situation. Most of us note that a parent has died at 87 and we think, well, why is this so traumatic? He was 87. Yeah, well, this was trauma due to the nature of the death.
Interestingly, said posse has been pretty supportive, and have expressed rather enlightened views about the right to choose one's exit. I find that rather heartening, to be honest. I don't want to dwell on it, but it's nice to know that if I find myself with inoperable something or another, I can save Big Kitty some pesos by stockpiling some drugs. I can mix them with a nice adult beverage and say goodbye and I love you. Then I can go to sleep forever. He agrees with that and wants the same option.
But a suicide that comes with no warning presents some other challenges - especially if there is unfinished business.
Let's just say that I didn't have a lot of respect for my father-in-law as a human being. He had some admirable accomplishments, but the way he treated his first family was poor enough to overshadow the good he may have done. At least in my eyes. But bear in mind, my male parental unit was absolutely devoted to his family, so I have the advantage of a guy who had his warts, but who put his kin first. When that is your example, it is easy to criticize someone who put himself first. Always.
He cheated on his wife and (we're talking the late 60s and early 70s) expected her to live with it. I'm not saying she was all sweetness and light, but she was raising two children, working as a nurse and caring for her father-in-law in their home. There needs to be some acknowledgment of that kind of workload and how it might have an effect on one's marriage. So, the stigma of a philandering husband just was not something she found easy to accept. And in those days, it absolutely was a social stigma.
She put up with it for as long as she could, but when her father-in-law, who was in a nursing home by that time and experiencing some addled brain function, had a lucid moment and turned to her and said, "Are you two still together?" she had her aha moment. The jig was up. Even HE knew what she hoped no one else knew.
Her husband didn't want a divorce. Oh, no. He wanted her to be someone she wasn't. He failed to acknowledge her role in helping him to become successful in business. She had the skills of a proper corporate wife and she happily did her part. But she didn't sign on for sharing her husband with another (married) woman who had a reputation. She drew a line in the sand, he didn't like it and that's when it got ugly.
Twenty years later when I came along, she was still stung by the injustice she'd suffered. Think about it. You are a working mother and you are making the payments on the car you need to get to work and to ferry your teenage son. Your husband maintains the title to the car in his name. He then turns around and gives that car - the one you paid for and depend on - to his lover.
He hid assets from her. He wasn't considerate enough of her job as a mother to leave her with the house so their second son could go to school with no interruptions. Nope. It had to be sold and she only got half. I'm going to admit, I've always thought she had a poor lawyer who shouldn't have allowed any of that to happen, but still, where was her husband's sense of decency?
Best Guy Friend once told me that he knew another lawyer who was generous with his ex-wife in their divorce settlement. When asked about it, he said, "It's easier for me to start over than it is for her."
I'm going to let you ponder that notion for a moment.
By this time, Big Kitty was in the Air Force, so he wasn't around to witness a lot of it firsthand. Not that he didn't hear about it, but he wasn't on site. By the time returned, his father had married 'the other woman,' and was now a stepfather to her two children. Their dad wasn't much in the fathering department, so they lacked some of the sense of security that children get when their fathers are "present" as parents.
I won't bore you with all the studies, but they are legion. The role of fathers in the upbringing of their children is an interesting topic for researchers, and out of all the many, many volumes of literature on the subject you can boil it down to this: that relationship can be complicated and fraught with a lot of nasty stuff, and it doesn't take much to put it into that category of dysfunction.
So here we have a father who kind of dropped the ball with his firstborn, relinquished his role as a parent to his second son, and is now step parenting two children who have come with their own baggage.
In all these years, that constellation has never been easy for Big Kitty or his brother. They were shoved aside in favor of these other kids. They had to listen to their mother complaining about how she had been wronged. They did have a grandmother who stuck up for them like nobody's business. She had that grandma thing down cold! But mostly, they just went along to get along.
But then came the fateful day when I made an observation and an inveterate gossip sent that message back to the male parental unit. He was livid. He confronted me and it wasn't pretty. But unlike the other women in his life, he wasn't prepared for a woman who had been raised by a father who taught her to stand up for herself and to not back down when she knew she was right. He got as good as he gave, but the casualty wasn't either of us. That incident laid bare the damage he'd done to his relationship with his son.
I never forgave him for any of that. He was absolutely wrong. He lied about something he had done (there were credible witnesses) and he accused my mother-in-law of trying to ruin him in business. Um, pal, you did that to yourself the minute you unzipped your pants and screwed another man's wife, no matter how willing she may have been!
So, now he's dead and there has been a lot of talking about the past. A lot of wounds were opened by his suicide in terms of the fact that he did what he damn well pleased. Although, he was a tightwad, so if he'd known in advance how big the check to the the haz mat cleaners would come to, maybe he would have planned something less messy!
Our lives are measured by the way we treat others. When we are deceitful, that is what will be remembered. If we are unfair, that, too will be discussed. People talk about only God being able to judge us. That's a crock. The minute someone dies, those left behind are adding up the tab. We're the ones who do the judging and if we don't feel that person even tried to do better, its a pretty sad thing to witness.
I know the second family doesn't think much of me. They had it easier when I wasn't around. They could treat my most beloved however they wanted and he pretty much ignored it. I don't. I don't stand for that kind of thing, especially not when I know that the final accounting of my guy is going to be quite positive because that is the way he lives his life. He's fair, honest to a fault and willing to give people he considers damaged the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't do things just to suit himself with no regard for how others will be affected.
He is everything his father was not, and that is in spite of being a lot like his father.
It must be hard to be around someone that good if you feel threatened by it. I'm nowhere near that level of goodness, but I like being alongside it because he has helped me be a better person. I'm not so afraid of looking for the good in others and I'm a lot more willing to take a wait and see approach. People who lead by example are often too humble to even notice the effect they have, but he's a thoughtful kind of guy, so maybe he has a clue.
So we're about to close this chapter of our life together. We buried the ashes of my interesting and difficult father, and now we're about to do the same for his. Only time will tell how the aftermath will shape up. For now we worry that this stepmother will never be able to live in the home of which they were both so proud. Finding him there left her decidedly shell-shocked, and we worry that when the reality of this surreal week starts to sink in that she will face horrors anew. There may not have been a close relationship there, but the ranks that have closed around her, the ranks that have effectively begun excluding her stepson, have no idea the level of genuine concern he has for her well-being. If they could possibly consider that others don't act and behave like they do, perhaps they could be receptive to the idea that he wants for her what she needs, and that is what his father wanted for her.
That marriage may have had its start in a mess that hurt two families, but that doesn't mean that those who are left behind wish ill of the others. Some people need to wise up and get over themselves.