Monday, April 2, 2012

Continental Divide.

There is a line in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, that says, "Happy families are all alike..." I believe the next line is something about how they are alike, and then how goes on to talk about unhappy families. I don't care what your family looks like, whether you have one sibling or six, step-parents or not, lots of Aunts and Uncles, or not; in my experience, ALL families are alike in at least one peculiar way-how each member acts and reacts within the family group.

Compare a hundred families who are having a crisis - in each there will be similarities in member's behaviors. There is usually one member who jumps in responsibly and takes care of as much as possible, even to exhaustion. There is one member who does as little as possible, who is just too busy, or tired, or whatever. There will be one member in denial about the crisis, another who is angry and trying to find someone to blame. It goes on and on. Granted, a smaller family will have fewer people to take on these roles, but even in one of only two siblings, there's usually at least a doer, and a non-doer.

This is a wildly subjective study, of course, but I've had a lot of time and chances to observe how families react to a crisis like illness or dementia. I've been spending some time on Facebook, observing a group I belong to for people with dementia in their lives. Its a place to complain, get comfort or info, etc. The stories on there would break your heart, and they're all real! Reading these posts, noting as people talk about their families and how each member has reacted to the crisis, just adds weight to my observation. There's a caretaker, giving their life to care for the family member; then, there's the sibling who can't be bothered, or who just checks out altogether; and often, there's a sibling who's in denial, making the caregiver's life more difficult through their words and actions.

I really wish this weren't the case-I wish families were not alike in this regard. But it seems family patterns are common and ingrained in us all. My wish for all families suffering through the horrors of dementia is to talk about it, face up to it, help each other out. A burden shared is a burden halved.

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