All’s Well That Ends Well. . .Well, As Well As Possible, Given The Circumstances. . .

I did not hold my breath, but Pam did call me back within about two hours of my phone call to her. Over the years, I have had role models of how to and how not to act when you want something. It used to be that I would dread confrontations with people, but I realize now that I am no longer intimidated by them most of the time.


Mom: “Eyes on the Prize.” Or, keep your goal in mind when you encounter obstacles. These roadblocks of life include those things that make our days unnecessarily, shall we say, challenging. Like surly customer service people, asking for a raise, getting a job, persuading someone to my point of view, entering into a philosophical or political discussion with someone who disagrees with me, dealing with difficult or otherwise unpleasant people or people I don’t like or who do not like me, although how such a thing is possible I don’t know.) Her philosophy, and M.O., were to remain direct, firm, and consistent, but at the same time, polite. This simple strategy is one that has gotten me a long way.

What this means basically is that if you antagonize someone from whom you need or want something, you will not get what you want.

Mom used to be pretty good at this, although sometimes she did antagonize and still got her way. However, in the past 5 years, as her mental and physical health have deteriorated, so have her reserves, and negotiating skills. Her absolute dependency on others has laid bare her emotions, turning her into an embittered, defensive old lady who is sometimes perceived as demanding and imperious, disrespectful and misanthropic.

Dad: “Be gracious.” Dad’s success and enjoyment of life came from his self-motivation, achievements though integrity, pride, quiet determination and grace. In fact, his best advice was always, “be gracious.” He meant behave civilly and respectfully even toward unpleasant individuals, do your work, never complain. He was an excellent listener — one of those who really paid attention to what you were saying, so that you felt like the most important person in the world. By being respectful towards all he encountered, he was himself highly respected and loved. There was a downside to his approach, though, especially toward the end of his life, which resulted in needless suffering. When he became so sick, and required help, he still put Mom first, remaining patient, and uncomplaining despite his own substantial suffering. Also, his pride coupled with his abhorrence of offending others made him unable to assert himself with respect to his own medical needs, and so the best doctor who ever lived received inferior care from cold medical so-called professionals whose compassion for this lovely, sweet, kind, good man was nonexistent. Basically, he was treated like shit by his urologist, PCP, aides in the rehab center and his oncologist. Just thinking about it now makes me so sad that I feel like crying. I so regret and mourn that his end of life was not filled with the grace he always aspired to. He was miserable with only occasional glimpses of humor. The only times I heard remnants of pleasure creep into his voice were when Mom had a “good day.” How my heart breaks that I was so useless to during his last days. When he stopped working at age 91, he sacrificed his last vestige of independence, his last joy, for the sake of Mom: “She needs me.” One consolation: Dad, who was very private and rarely revealed his emotions, confided in me and used me as a sounding board in his last months of life. He even vented to me about Mom sometimes, and about his health.

The only person I have ever met whose people skills are on a par with those of my Dad is my wonderful cb.

CB: “Collaborate.” CB’s leadership and teaching strengths, which are considerable, stem from his desire to always collaborate with members of a team, encourage group participation, give credit to others rather than steal it all for himself. Given his position at the University, it may not be surprising that he is both imaginative and brilliant, but those qualities are not, in my opinion, what contribute most to his success. He likes being a project-starter, seeing his ideas gain momentum, take hold. Then he lets go, passing the torch to someone else so that he can move on to implement yet another creative idea. As a boss, he shuns the type of micromanagement, condescension, and dictatorial methodology that are the downfall of many administrators. He never stands on ceremony, preferring the casual Friday look, and both suspicious despising of the button-down shirt and tie. Like my Dad, he is modest and unassuming, forever, despite my entreaties to the contrary, choosing to put himself last and helping others — family, co-workers, employees and friends — at the expense of self-promotion. Like my Dad, who adored cb, my husby feels that any day that he doesn’t do something to “make a difference” is a failure. Unfortunately, in the narcissistic, egomaniacal world that is academia, Cb’s altruism has been a double-edged sword.

As over the years I have made an effort to emulate these loves of my life, I have gained confidence and a satisfying comfort level in tricky situations. So when Pam called me back, I let her vent to me for a few minutes, murmuring assents and sympathies as she described the quandary in which she found herself. I assume she had upset Mom because she was simply so fed up with Mom’s behavior that she had snapped at Mom on the phone. She complained that Mom had become impossibly demanding: 7 substitute aides had been sent in to cover some shifts, and 7 had been summarily dismissed. Mom, Pam confided, had even had a few of the aides in tears because of her relentless demands. Even the longstanding aides who had been with Mom for over a year found her yelling for help disconcerting and frustrating. (Mom would give the aides not a moment of peace — she would frequently call for an aide who might be going to the bathroom, and if no response in two seconds, would call again, and repeatedly — I knew this was the case because I had witnessed it with Dad, with aides, with Curtis, and been the object of her yells while in the bathroom myself. I think this all stems from her terror of abandonment — she can do absolutely nothing for herself anymore. Unfortunately, even this understanding does not assuage the prickly and jarring annoyance of her relentless cries of, “Vicki. . .Vicki. . .VICKI!!!! Sadly, even an angel — and the aides are, after all, “Angels on Call” — would lose patience.) One aide, Mary, whom Mom loves, prefers weekend shifts, but has taken to calling in sick on Saturday mornings, and had become increasingly unreliable. Weekend substitutes are tough to find in the first place, Pam told me, but an aide who habitually calls off at the last minute, is particularly trying. Mom had made the dilemma even worse by refusing to allow Mary;s weekend shifts to be switched to Patrice, a much more reliable aide who was willing to take those slots.

We talked for a while, and when Pam realized that I was empathic to her “not knowing what to do with Julia,” and was not going to chew her out, she calmed down. Once I explained Mom’s changed personality to her, her emotional needs and physical frailties, her fears of being disliked and abandoned, her desire to be loved and maybe even hugged, Pam softened even more.

Meanwhile the night before, I had called Mom again, but of course since she had asked me not to call Pam, I didn’t mention it. When I called Mom, she said she had been thinking things over and “maybe I’m not always as nice as I think I am.” I gently responded that she might occasionally come off that way, but I knew she never intended not to be nice. Furthermore, I suggested that maybe it would be ok for “someone like Patrice” to replace the unreliable Mary on weekends. I offered that maybe Mom should give substitutes a little more of a chance and benefit of the doubt, and reinforced Mom’s talent for getting what she wanted, how she had done that successfully all her life, and how I had always admired this ability of hers. By the end of that conversation, she seemed a lot more sanguine and confident about resolving the aide situation, and seemed much less panicky about meeting with Pam. Her biggest fear, I think, was abandonment and that “Pam will fire me,” but I assured her this would never be the case.

When I returned home from work on the evening of Mom’s tete a tete with Pam, cb told me Mom had left a message on the answering machine. I was home late and starving, so I waited till after dinner to play it back. For the first time in a long time, Mom’s voice sounded relieved and almost — dare I say it? — playful. “Hello, love. My meeting with Pam turned out just fine. It took ten minutes, and everything is resolved. You little devil! What did you do, calling Pam like that? Don’t do that again unless I tell you to.” (Interestingly, although the words were scolding, the tenor was somehow thankful.) “So, sweetie, thanks for your interest. And I’ll talk to you soon.”

Did I, just maybe, play a mediating role in overcoming this ostensible impasse between Pam and Mom? I like to think so, but whether my separate talks with Mom and Pam, and even the risk I took of alienating and/or hurting Mom with my unequivocal critique of her behavior, actually accomplished anything, or whether the whole ugly situation would have blown over without my interference, I will never know. In any case, self-congratulations are most definitely not in order, for I am in the shadow of the giants. If, by some miracle, I was, indeed, a catalyst in this resolution, the credit goes not to me at all, but to Dad, cb, and yes, even to Mom, the great communicators who have taught me everything I know.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 18th, 2011 at 1:25 pm and is filed under Attitude, critique, friends & family, love, philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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