Sister sucker punch

I intended to write another money topic this week. Then I had a conversation with my sister two days ago that knocked me back hard and I’m still reeling. It does have a money component, so I can still stay on theme, I guess.

On Tuesday, sister pinged me in the morning and asked if I could talk. I answered in the affirmative. She called me moments later and said she had a couple of things to ask me about, one of which was to check on how my dog was doing and how I was doing. From a previous call sister knew all about the expensive and stressful issues I’ve been facing with my dog, and I thought it very nice for her to call and check on us. I told her the dog was doing OK and so was I.

Then she got to the meat of the conversation: she wanted to tell me that she is holding me accountable for half the cost of a Life Alert service she ordered for our mom last year. I was shocked and outraged. I’m STILL shocked and outraged.

Sister had approached me with this idea last year, just before she moved to Napa from Chicago. She asked me if I would be willing to split the cost with her. I said no. She went ahead and ordered it anyway.

A few months ago, sister vented to me about how she had tried to cancel the service (mom wasn’t using it and not even remembering to wear the device) and was told she would still have to pay the contract in full. She had asked before signing the contract if there was a cancellation fee and been told no, so she thought she had been lied to. She brought the contract by my house and asked me to look at it, so I did. It was easy to find the part of the contract that stated the cost, and that by signing she was agreeing to pay that it in full no matter what. So, there was no “cancellation fee” and they weren’t lying about that. There was just the cost of the contract. Period. She was frustrated about this, but must have decided there was nothing she could do about it.

So when she called me two days ago and said I would have to pay her half the cost because I had agreed to it, I was upset. I told her I had not agreed to pay this cost. She said I had. She said I had even paid her some money in the past. I can’t find any record of that in my electronic payments, despite her claim. Besides, even if I did give her some money at some point, that doesn’t negate the fact that I objected to the contract and said I would not pay for it.

So here we are at an impasse. She says I agreed to the contract, and that I owe her money; I say I never agreed to it. She says she expects me to pay her the full $1,000 (half of the contract cost), and that the current tally of what I owe is around $300. I maintain that I should not owe anything towards the cost of this contract.

My relationship with my sister has always been rocky, but I perpetually hold out hope that one day we will treat each other with kindness and find enjoyment in each other’s company. I don’t know why I keep this fantasy alive. From the time we were small children, she has bullied me. When her adult daughter was visiting last year, she even asked me why I put up with the shit her mom does to me.

By not demanding money from me right now and simply putting me on notice, my sister seems to think she is being magnanimous. Whereas I have been struggling to keep myself out of the absolute pit of despair after this conversation. Do I pay up, or do I give up on having a relationship with my sister? I’m already at arm’s length with my mother and father; moving across the country introduced a safer, saner distance for me. I thought that sister and I could have a chance to build a better relationship if we lived close to each other. I settled in Napa, specifically, instead of some other town in the Bay Area for that reason. Did I fall into a trap, where I am her punching bag whenever she feels the need to let off some steam?

I saw my therapist yesterday and sobbed my way through the appointment. I have had some very dark times over the past few days. I confessed to my therapist that I’ve found myself asking “What’s the point?” Why am I bothering to trudge along anymore?

I keep myself together because I know that would be a really shitty thing to do to my friends. But this situation is not helping me stay in a positive place.

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Friends, family, and feelings

When I started writing this post yesterday it was a recounting of a friendship that is no more. It opened with details about how we became friends, some things we had done together, and then moved into my slowly dawning realization that the friendship was over. For whatever reasons, my former friend ended our relationship this year by ghosting me.

The loss of this friendship has been in my mind a lot lately for various reasons. I feel sad about it, and even shed some tears on Christmas Day. But I had to stop writing to get to an appointment, and when I returned home I had other things to do. Instead of writing, I thought more about the situation as I did my chores, and I’m glad I did.

Because as I reflected more on what I was feeling, I realized my sadness was about more than just losing one friend: it was about feeling rejected and unloved by other people, in general.

It was about how my mother never wants to spend more than two minutes on the phone with me.

It was about not being able to reach my father on the phone so I could wish him Merry Christmas.

It was about realizing that the attractive bartender that I had met a few weeks ago wasn’t interested in me, just being flirty because that was his way of relating.

It was about feeling unattractive and unlovable with my wonky eye and overweight body.

It was about feeling unwanted and unappreciated in my current work group.

It was about dealing with the slow decline of my beloved dog’s health and the fear that I would be losing her — my one constant companion who showers me with unconditional love — soon.

I’m glad that I didn’t finish the first version of this post and that I was able to figure out what was really going on in my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to the point where I don’t feel unlovable, but I try to remind myself that isn’t a sweeping generalization.

After all, I was welcomed to a warm and festive family dinner and gathering on Christmas Day with a former neighbor and friend. Last night I attended the annual Boxing Day party thrown by another former neighbor and friend. And tonight I will be visiting with yet another friend and enjoying a delicious meal in her home.

There are people who like me and value me, and I just need to focus on them and not dwell on loss and pain. I’m working on it, and that’s a good thing.

Rays of sunshine

This has been one doozy of a year. It’s been stressful, expensive, and has triggered my anxiety big time. But, I feel like at this back-end of the year I’m experiencing some good things.

Pets

Hannah dog is recuperating from her health crisis. I had to stop all of the supplements and herbs that had been helping her arthritis pain, and that is apparent. However, she is eating and drinking again and keeping it all down, her potty habits are normal again, and after several trips to the vet for fluid therapy, she no longer shows signs of elevated bilirubin in her urine. She even shows interest in play, and still gets excited when I bring out the leash. I’m relieved and thankful that my online and IRL friends were so supportive to us during a difficult time.

Money

Oh my has this been an expensive year! I had to pay for my first eye surgery out-of-pocket in full, install a system of french drains and a sump pump around my foundation, and pay a lot in vet bills this year. There were also a few more typical home repair expenses/glitches that needed to be addressed, and I bought new tires for my car. My savings account is depleted, and it was hard to watch all that money fly out of it.

But some of that money is starting to wing its way back to me. After submitting the claim for the July eye surgery to the insurance company again, they actually paid for it! The eye surgery center sent the claim, so I will have to talk to them about getting a reimbursement for the money I already paid them. (And I still got to keep the cash rewards from the credit card company!) I’m also submitting the receipts for the post-op medications, since they had initially refused to cover it. I’m hoping to get a check for that before the end of the year.

Also, I will be getting some additional money from the IRS and State of California. Way back in the spring when I was doing a final review of my tax forms, I realized that I had forgotten to include my 2016 property taxes on the forms I sent to my tax preparer. When I contacted him about needing to correct this, he suggested that we file anyway since we were close to the deadline, and then do an amended return later in the year. I tried to get the amended return prepared as early as June, but he wasn’t responding to me. It took a lot of persistent follow-up, but I finally got the amended return a few weeks ago and mailed it off. (Yes, I will be looking for a new tax person to work with; that I had to follow-up at least 6 times via email and phone to get this addressed is unacceptable.)

This month I will get three paychecks instead of two. This happens at least once, and sometimes twice a year because I’m paid every two weeks. Since my budget is based on two paychecks a month, that third one is a welcome “bonus.” I could have used it to replenish my savings account, but instead I decided to use most of it to pay my future self and withheld about 35% to my standard 401(k) as a catch up contribution. I’m making a note to adjust my withholding again in a couple of weeks, because I want that large amount to be a one-time thing. Going forward, I’ll drop that amount to the single digits.

The balance of that paycheck can then be used to pay back savings account, and also to make some charitable contributions. I try to be generous with my contributions, but this year has been tough. Right now I’m mostly giving via auto-billing to a few charities, but not nearly as much as I have in past years.

Relationships

There has been a huge positive development in my relationship with my sister. She had surgery last week, and I was helping her out in various ways. Her husband had to be out-of-town for business during this time, so I stepped in to take her to the surgery center and pick her up. I’ve stopped by the house to help with a few chores, checked on her throughout the days, and run a few errands for her, too. Her recuperation period has led her to a new understanding of what I’ve had to go through with my various surgeries. Yesterday, as I dropped off some groceries at her house she got tearful and thanked me for helping her so much. She said she didn’t think she had been very kind to me after my surgeries and she apologized. Wow. That felt really good. I was gracious in accepting her apology and thanked her for it. There’s still hope for a better relationship here.

 

Sister time

When I scheduled my colon surgery I reached out to my sister and asked her if she would come here to help me when I was released from hospital. After my last surgery I needed help simply getting out of bed and up from the couch for the first few days, and I expected to need similar help this time. Additionally, I knew I’d be limited in my ability to lift anything more than 10 lbs, so having someone on hand to help with anything involving lifting would be important.

My relationship with my sister has been a rocky one for most of our lives, but in the past few years it has improved. It used to be that she would lash out at me the majority of time; lately that has happened infrequently, and she’s been apologetic for her cruel behavior when it does happen. Getting emotionally eviscerated is never good, but this is truly progress considering where we started.

Sister seemed flattered that I asked for her help, and excited that she was going to take care of her “little sister.” Of course, she was also glad to be visiting Napa, too. After all, she and her husband own a house here that they purchased because they plan to move to Napa eventually.

In fact, their house in Napa became a focal point of her trip here in the weeks leading up to my surgery. Certainly she still crooned about taking care of me, but she also decided that she wanted to try furnishing the house while she was here so it could be marketed as a short-term rental and make it easier for them to take possession when they are ready to move. And this was probably the source of the stress that caused trouble for me.

Sister flew in the day after my surgery and took care of my house and dog until I was ready to be released. She also picked me up from the hospital on my release date and helped me with the chores I couldn’t do, such as wheeling the waste bins to the curb, and carrying groceries and laundry. However, she was clearly mostly focused on furnishing her house and preparing an online listing.

I accompanied her on most of the trips to the consignment and thrift stores since I was feeling well-rested and had only small amount of well-controlled pain. Sitting in my car as a passenger or sitting in a chair while she shopped allowed me to take it easy and take a look at what the shops had to offer, too. But as sister started feeling her time for prepping her house running out, she started acting more resentful and angry towards me when I asked for help.

One morning in particular stands out for me. It was waste pick up day, and I had asked her to roll out the big bins the night before. We were up early and the bins hadn’t yet been picked up when she discovered she had overlooked rolling one of them to the curb. Sister ran out to put the bin in position, then came back inside to get her breakfast ready. Just as she was sitting down to eat I found a bag of trash she had forgotten to put in the bins, so I asked if she could quickly bring it outside. She exploded at me.

Did I expect her to wait on me hand and foot? Why couldn’t I take the bag outside myself, since it seemed lightweight and under my 10 lb limit? Why was I being such a baby? I started crying and reminded her that my gut had been cut open just the week before. She was not deterred and downplayed my surgery; after all, I had small incisions, it couldn’t have been that bad and I was clearly exaggerating. I continued to cry and pointed out to her that there were other reasons I needed help besides my lifting limitations, including having pain and fatigue. And then I walked away and tried to remind myself that she would be gone in a few days.

What was truly hurting me wasn’t just this exchange, though. Over the course of the week sister had made the observation that her husband and I had similar thinking and communication patterns. I could observe her interacting with him in a patient and loving way, yet she didn’t do that with me. While I was crying that morning I asked her why this was the case. Why was she able to be so patient and kind to her husband yet so hurtful to me?

It took a few minutes for her to think and to apologize to me. But the damage had been done. I knew that her main focus had become readying her house and not helping me, and that I had better limit the number of times I asked her for assistance.

The outburst did help us build a bridge in one way, at least. Sister had mentioned that I had said a few things in the past few days that had hurt her feelings. At first she said she didn’t want to tell me what those statements were despite my request that she do so that I may gain better awareness. Eventually she did tell me, and it was helpful to have a better understanding of her tender points.

*sigh*

My family is so hard to deal with. I still have hope that at some point I’ll be able to enjoy time with sister without getting a picked on. I hope that day isn’t very far off.

 

 

So it goes

The visit back to Chicagoland was as disturbing as I’d feared. Although I landed on a Wednesday afternoon, I didn’t go to see my mother until Saturday. In between, I worked a couple days in our Chicago office and tried to set up meals and coffee breaks with friends. Sadly, only one one of those rendezvous actually worked out, but I had to try.

That Saturday morning I picked up a rental car and started the drive down to the rural area where Mom lives. I dawdled a bit along the way, stopping at a tollway oasis for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. When I arrived at her house, she met me near the door and seemed eager to see me. I had called her that morning and alerted her I was on my way and would be taking her out to lunch so she would be dressed and ready to go. We didn’t have to rush off after I arrived, though, so we visited for about an hour before leaving. This consisted of me showing Mom photos on my phone and me talking a lot. Mom — formerly an extremely talkative person — had hardly anything to say, even when I directly questioned her about things from the past and present.

The drive to the restaurant took about 40 minutes. In that time, I think Mom talked for about five. At lunch, I commented on the changes in the area. Again, Mom had little to say.

All through my childhood, teen, and early adult years my Mom would talk your ear off if given the chance. She would talk to telemarketers who called the house until THEY hung up. She had a limited filter and would often make borderline bawdy comments for laughs. But that person is gone. In it’s place is someone who often says “I can’t remember. My memory is no good anymore.”

Physically she is in terrible shape. She is obese and has asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, all of which are only marginally under control because she just doesn’t care to do so. Poorly managed diabetes is the mostly likely cause of her dementia, in fact. On this visit, her legs were swollen, and her breathing was labored after just the short walk from the house to the car.

I returned the following Monday to take her to the dentist. Since I didn’t need to do that until the afternoon and I had a few phone meetings, I brought my laptop and did some work. Mom has no Internet connection, but my employer pays for use of the hotspot when necessary, and my phone had a solid connection. It was still challenging to work at her house because I could only find one place to connect my laptop to power: the same power strip where her microwave is connected.

The truly appalling condition of the house struck me that day. Mom remarried after she and Dad divorced. Her current husband is a hard-working guy, but while he runs his own business as a “horse trader” (someone who trades in heavy equipment like backhoes and trucks), he’s not an educated man. He grew up in a poor household, never even finished grade school, and is functionally illiterate. He used to have Mom do his basic book-keeping and attend to anything that required reading and writing skills; now he has his son do that. Back when Mom would talk a lot and share all the nitty-gritty details of her life, we learned that stepfather’s main source of business capital was mortgaging the house and credit card cash advances. I’m sure he’s still doing that now.

Maybe lack of capital is why the house is in such bad shape. Or maybe stepfather’s standards are just really low. The door handle on the bathroom was completely missing. The door itself was mangled a bit, probably because the new puppy stepfather bought six months ago did it. (What was he thinking?! Why did he think it was a good idea to bring a puppy to a woman who can’t remember to take her meds or eat regular meals?!) The outlet in the bedroom in which I first tried to work wasn’t accepting my grounded power plug. I managed to find an adapter, but the laptop still wouldn’t charge, so the outlet must not have worked at all. In the kitchen, several of the cabinet handles were broken.  The linoleum is missing in some places and the plywood sub-floor is visible. Every piece of furniture in the house was suffering from heavy wear or in some state of disrepair.

The older dog would start barking like crazy whenever I made a movement, and Mom would then scream at it to stop. The now six-month old puppy wasn’t house trained and kept peeing around the house. Not finding any paper towels in the kitchen, I asked Mom where I could find something to clean up after the puppy, and she directed me to get a rag from the bathroom cabinet. I couldn’t tell the difference between the rags and the “good” towels.

That was my breaking point. That was when I started to cry, as I walked along the hallway, with a wet cloth in my hand to wipe up dog urine from the sides of the couch and easy chair, and from the stained wood floor. I don’t think Mom saw me cry.

After spending a bit of time talking with stepfather when he returned to the house, I started the drive back to my friend A’s house where I was staying for those few days. Along the way I stopped at a Walgreens and picked up beer and a giant bag of kettle corn so I could comfort myself that night.

I had to return to Mom’s house the next day to take her to another doctor’s appointment. It hadn’t been part of my plan for the day, but stepfather had asked me to call the doctor the day before and ask for advice on her swelling and difficulty breathing at night. In just the three days that had passed since I had seen her, Mom’s legs continued to swell. The pulmonologist looked her over and then said her problem was not her lungs. This wasn’t an asthma complication, and she needed to see a cardiologist. He said she had a problem with her heart. That’s all he would say, but he did get her an appointment with the cardiology nurse practitioner for the following week.

What he wouldn’t say was that she has congestive heart failure.

I drove straight from Mom’s house to the airport. I turned in the rental car and went through the motions of getting through security. I had some extra time, so I bought a large beer and sat at a table and tried hard not to cry. I’m still trying.

A visit home

It’s been great to have my energy back again! The new estrogen patch seems to be working well for me. I’ve been on it for a week solid and I finally feel like I’m firing on all cylinders again.

Sleep is pretty good. I do get hot spells, but they’re manageable. My new routine for the evening is to turn off the heat and open the bedroom window enough to let the cool night air inside. When I get hot, usually just turning back the top quilt is enough to cool me down, and if not I’ll toss off the other two layers (a blanket and top sheet) if needed. I have the fan with remote control in position just in case, but rarely have had to use it. In the morning, the house is usually around 60 F when I get up — which makes for a chilly start to the day — but the thermostat is just outside the bedroom door.

I’m still allowing myself more time to rest and taking on less, too. Despite my new energy, I’m still healing inside. Last Saturday, for example, I had plans to attend a potluck party in the evening. A chance to go on a short hike that morning popped up, but I declined because I didn’t want to totally pack my Saturday. It turned out to be a good call.

However, there are some stressors over which I have little control. A few weeks ago I was urged by sister and stepfather to get back to Chicago soon for a visit with Mom. I had been planning a trip back to Chicago in late June this year to attend sister’s wedding celebration, but they told me not to wait that long.

I had to figure out how to fit a trip back to Chicago in the near term into my budget and schedule, so I went hunting for cheap fares online. I found a flight on Southwest that worked out for my schedule, and not *too* bad on my budget.

I depart on Wednesday, and I plan to spend two days with Mom: Saturday and Monday. Sunday will be a day of rest and relaxing  (I hope!), and the rest of the days are work days. Sadly, I can’t get work to pay for the trip since there is no business need for me to visit Chicago, but at least I won’t have to burn up a lot more PTO, and should retain enough for all the medical stuff I have to schedule in this year.

This trip is really stressing me out, and I’m not entirely sure why. There are plenty of possible reasons. It may be because:

  • I’m dreading seeing my mother. Talking with her weekly I get an idea of how poorly she’s doing, but that’s not the same as experiencing it in person.
  • I’m still mending and not feeling up to the rigors of packing and travel.
  • I’m leaving behind my personal comforts: the new friends I’ve made, my dog, and the little “nest” I’ve been building in the rental house.
  • I’m leaving behind the glorious weather (sunny, warm, lots of greenery and flowers from the plentiful March rain) and heading into a typical Midwest spring. (There was snow in Chicago on Saturday, and it was 70 F there yesterday.)

And, then there is answer E: All of the Above.

The stress is manifesting itself in waking up with a worried mind, and heartburn. I’ve been combating the first by writing down lists of things I need to do. The last one is a new development for me, and I had to pick up some OTC meds at the pharmacy to keep on hand.

I’ve been experimenting with different Bay Area airports over the past year, and this will be my first time flying in/out of Oakland International Airport. It’s both good and bad that the flight leaves Oakland at 6 AM: good because there should be little traffic on the expressway at that time of day, so my drive from Napa should take just over an hour; bad, because it means I need to get up at 4 AM. *gulp*

Part of my time this past weekend was spent online researching how much time to allow for the drive to the airport, what amenities are at the airport, and what amenities are on the flight. I’m a pretty good flyer, but that’s because I prepare for my personal comfort in advance. (Maybe that should be a separate blog post some day.)

M will drive me to the airport and take over house-sitting duties (mainly Hannah care) while I’m gone. On the Chicago end, sister will pick me up at Midway Airport and I’ll stay with her and her guy for a few nights. Come the weekend, I’ll pick up a rental car near their house and drive down to the south suburbs to stay with my friend A for the rest of the visit.

*Fingers crossed* all my prep goes as planned, and that I get a comfy seat on my early morning flight so I can sleep.

Mom update

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned anything about my mother, so I thought i’d do an update post. It’s taken several months to work through all her doctors to get a handle on her full health status, but now we think we have most everything figured out.

We already knew mom has diabetes and asthma. As we got her meds organized, it became obvious she also has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She’s on a lot of meds, including two different types of injectible insulin, an oral med for diabetes, an oral med for asthma, and a maintenance inhaler. Just keeping them all organized and filled is a chore. I looked into mail order prescription services, but her insurance didn’t cover the one that really intrigued me (Pillpack.com), and mom said she prefers to get her meds from the pharmacy anyway.

Sister and I were worried about mom’s inability to take her diabetes medications regularly, and her primary care doc thought that had a lot to do with her forgetfulness. Finding a way to get her to take her meds properly was imperative for us.

We also recognized that mom was stuck at home with only her two little dogs for company. Her days consisted of getting up and fixing breakfast for her and stepfather, then spending the time after he left for work mostly watching TV and dozing in a chair. She would do some light housework and usually get dinner ready during that time, but she wasn’t getting any real physical or mental stimulation. She was also skipping or missing meals, which wasn’t good for her blood sugar. Mom lives in a rural area and there are no close neighbors for her to interact with, either.

After a bit of research into senior services and activities in her area we found that there was a day program at a private senior living facility within 30 minutes of her home. We also discovered that the township would pick her up and drop her off there for a small fee.

It took quite a bit of negotiation to get mom to agree to visit the place and try the activities. We had to get a lot of forms completed with health details and doctor permissions for activities, too. We finally managed to get her going to the day program in July. She goes two to three times a week and is loving it. There are chair exercise classes, games, puzzles, and cooking classes. The staff make sure she takes her insulin shot and she gets lunch and a snack, so her blood sugar is now more under control.

Stepfather covers the cost of the transportation, and sister and I split the cost of the day program since they can’t afford it. Each month it costs me between $250 and $350, and I can make that fit in my budget. Every week when I talk to her she tells me how much she enjoys going there and thanks me for paying for it.

Tomorrow sister is taking mom to the neurologist to discuss the results of mom’s most recent EEG. The first visit to this doc resulted in a diagnosis of dementia and a prescription that mom had to stop after a few days because it made her sick. We’re not sure what this visit will bring, but hopefully there will be something else she can try for the dementia symptoms.

The last few times I’ve talked to my mom she has mentioned that she would love to come out to visit me. I’m considering that progress.

The distance I’ve had from her has helped me feel less stressed about my mom, but I recognize that sister has taken on a lot of the burden of taking her to doctors and organized her health care. I had a pretty transparent dream about this a few weeks ago, in fact. In my dream, I was living in a beautiful suite of rooms in a big house. I left my suite to go find my sister since I knew she was living in this big house with me. When I found her room it was small, cramped, and dingy. It really didn’t take too much thought to realize that even subconsciously I know sister has the more rotten deal here. :-/