Friday, 1 October 2010

Control Freakery and Love

Another train journey, on which I read of a dying woman who leaves 100 instructions to her husband on how to bring up their young sons. They run from Kiss boys two times after I've gone, through Would like R to learn recorder or guitar, F the drums and electronic keyboard and Would love the boys to find four leaved clovers and Don't fill outside with your boats, give boys space to play down to Sort out fish tank, pebble chess set, netball centre.

This may be understandable but it is rather horrific. Maybe R hates the recorder and guitar. Maybe F is tone deaf. Maybe there are no four leaved clovers in the vicinity. Maybe the remaining ninety-five instructions are just ninety-nine too much. Maybe there is too much love going round and round and round.

The annals are not empty of women who leave loving instructions on where to find things in the kitchen and other useful tips. It is kindness, solicitude, fate, what you will. Always remember I love you. Never forget. That way lies the classic Jewish Mother.

My own mother, when she knew she was going to die (it was a consummation devoutly to be wished as far as she was concerned), did some mad things. She recorded Happy Birthday To You on a tape so that we should play it on our birthdays. We could have played and replayed the same recording (not that we could bear to) for years on end but she was not satisfied with that. Each birthday, for some ten years into the future, was recorded separately. The same cracked voice actually repeating the same sad tune ten or more times. I cannot quite live with the mad recordings but I know they are there. They are part of the psychological floor that must be walked on.

Her love needed to be present, even though she personally needed to be absent. In the same way, the woman with the hundred instructions needs to be present. I am only doing it for you is a complex truth. The only time I got my face slapped by my dad was when I queried the principle. Something of it in him too, I suspect.


Billy C said...

I saw that, too, George, and the same thoughts went through my mind. My lot have only one instruction: Get on with it, and don't waste a moment of it, because you only get one shot at it!

Anonymous said...

I could not come up with so many instructions, but the pain a mother must feel at knowing she is leaving children must be unbearable. Keeping busy, writing these lists, immersing oneself in domestic detail may simply be prevarication from the anxious business of dying.

George S said...

Of course you're right, makemeadiva. I do know that. I just think it is a complicated business, as is all love - and that it does impose a great burden of guilt on those receiving the instructions breeding both gratitude and resentment. 'You will never love me as much I love you,' is as much - maybe more - about the person declaring as about those hearing.

I don't mean that the listeners are harmless innocents (nobody is that!) nor victims either, just that in the complex stew of human consciousness this kind of action never plays straight. It is as if, it might almost be better to regard the instructions as a symptom in the mother and simply to ignore them in the knowledge that it is not really to do with the receivers: rather it is a case of love going into a tail spin about itself.

Maybe it's because I am a man (though I always hesitate to make such generalisations) that I feel like Billy about this. That the best thing to do with children's lives is to bring them up with as little sense of obligation as possible, and just enough affection to let them feel you love them without them having to do anything about it.

Even that has its complications of course, as is only right.

dana said...

I always get this feeling about people who leave instructions for their own funerals. I believe that the mourners need to do whatever is best for them to grieve or move on. I can hope my funeral will turn into a big party with cake. But it's really none of my business. My grandfather thought open caskets were barbaric. But he died suddenly and my grandmother, his wife of 59 years, couldn't bear to see it closed. She sat next to his body for the six hours of the wake, and said she kept feeling as if she could turn to him in surprise at all the old friends who were visiting (including one old fellow who showed up with a photo of her at 14 on a riverboat, with bobbed hair).

It was an easy decision, or prioritizing of loyalties, at least for me, in that case.

James said...

That's very moving Dana - and I'd dare anyone not to root for the grandmother: that's about love and grief and dignity rather than control on anyone's part. That's how I want my instructions reneged on - like that; in that spirit.

K and I have left instructions (with trusted friends) for our funerals - well, for our ashes to be scattered in the same place at any rate, so we can find each other again.

The instructions on their own wouldn't be enough. Our families would ignore them (years of divorce-fuelled splits and warring): our ashes would finish up on separate continents. And as for the funeral services themselves, well - the less said.

But when it comes to this sort of thing, the love and trust you don't find in your family you can find in your friends.