Monday, April 13, 2009

a dilemma question

I don't know why I'm not posting much. I just don't have a lot to say. So I'm sitting here, staring at my screen, struggling to put words to feelings and come up with something that makes sense. And I suddenly remembered there was a post I wanted to do over the holidays. I was on the periphery of a dead baby situation.

Here's the back story: my mom had 3 birth siblings, and one adopted sister. My grandmother was a famous champion of the lost, and in the late 1950s, when her children were older (the youngest 11, my mom 15, the older two 20 and 25) she took in the baby daughter of a lost soul - a woman who couldn't care for her young daughter (through bad choices with men, booze, drugs, etc). The child was eventually adopted. She is about 11 years older than me, and growing up I thought she was great - my aunt who was more like a cousin, who sometimes came on my family's vacations, who babysat us, etc. But as she entered high school, she got in with the proverbial wrong crowd and became a bit of a handful - smoking, drinking, sex, the usual. I have older cousins who were just a couple of years behind her in school, and were constantly disavowing her. Even at a young age, I grew to understand she was not the same as the rest of my fairly straight-laced family. She got married at 18 and had two children, got divorced, and then got really crazy. Most of my extended family really stopped interacting with her around this point - just seeing her once or twice a year when she'd pop by asking for something. When I was in high school I heard all sorts of rumors about her house - drugs, sex rings, you name a Jerry Springer episode and it was possible this aunt of mine could have a starring role. She never worked, and has lived on some sort of disability all these years. Honestly, knowing her and her choices has been one of the situations that has most tempered my political liberalism. I hate to sound like this, but a productive member of society she is not. Through adoption, she is a part of the family. But so unlike anyone else in the family - she is a Jerry Springer episode come to life. (there's some story about her and her daughter both dating, simultaneously, a guy who was in my brother's class - so 10 years younger than the aunt, 10 years older than the daughter - with accompanying drama.) We really have little to do with her - almost to the point of disavowing her. My brother was married in our hometown, and she did come. I was married the next year, away from my hometown, and did not invite her. I hate even referring to her as aunt or my mother's sister. Even though she is, she is not family. I'll call her Becky.

When my grandparents died, 30 years ago, their house was left to the 3 daughters - Becky, my mom, and my mom's other sister. Becky moved in, and has trashed the house for the past 3 decades. She pays the taxes and upkeep, what little there has been. This is a story for another day, but has been a major source of stress in the family. She's got the house, but it's at least partially owned by others - do we sell the house out from under her (though it's not worth much if anything) or gift it to her? She can't possibly buy it. My father is adamantly against giving her the house. My cousins and my siblings and I are adamantly against ever having any part of this house, though, and want our parents to resolve the situation before we ever have to think about it.

Anyway - my grandparents had also bought a large family cemetery plot, with spots for I don't know, 10 people or so. My mother, executor of the estate, was left the plot. But when my parents moved away from our hometown, my mother said the plots were her brother's, my uncle (the only one who still lived in our town), to do with as he wished for his family.

At Christmas, my mother got a rare call from Becky. Her son, whom none of us had seen in, I don't know, years, had a pregnant girlfriend. The son is in his mid 20s, the girl still in high school. The son had been married before and had other children with another woman. Sadly, this baby had died in utero, at nearly full term. The baby was to be delivered in the next few days and my aunt wanted to know about burying the baby in the family plot. My mother said it was my uncle's decision. My uncle called later - he had gotten the same call. He had sort of put her off - hadn't said yes by any means, but had not completely said no, either. He wanted to know what my mom thought, and she said it was his decision, she imagined he had plans for the plot, and she supported him saying no. He called Becky back and said he was sorry, but there was no space available.

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about this. I think my mom and uncle did the right thing, given all the circumstances and history, much of which I've left out. But really, for this pregnant teenager, what was the right thing to do? How compassionate should we be? My big question was, surely this girl has family? My uncle later said he felt it was presumptious of Becky to even ask. And I agree. I have no sympathy for her, and I don't know what that says about me. Perhaps not very compassionate. Having come to know so many in dead baby land, I felt many emotions thinking about this situation. And I certainly have sympathy for the girl, and her dead child she still had to birth.

My dad watched the obituary pages online (we are from such a small town - the online paper tells us so much) and about a week later saw the obituary and funeral home and burial information. The obit mostly focused on the mother's family, actually, it might have been a typo but Becky, who was the dead baby's grandmother, was not mentioned in the obituary, though the other grandparents were. The child was buried in the mother's family plot, which I guess did answer my question - yes, the girl had family, and her family took care of her. Reading broadly between the lines, I think Becky tried to insert herself into the situation - perhaps claiming to have the solution to burial questions - and was rebuffed.

I'm curious - although I can't adequately convey all the nuances of this story, what do you think? Was my uncle within reasonable bounds in saying no? Do you have any black sheep in your family? How do you interact with them?


niobe said...

I don't have any thoughts about your uncle's decision.

In my family, I'm the black sheep.

niobe said...

And when I say I don't have any thoughts, I really don't have any sense of whether it was the right thing to do or not. Probably, given the way it turned out, it was the right decision. The whole thing is just so incredibly sad.

Infertile Myrtle said...

My entire fucking family is a black sheep. Or, I guess, I'm the black sheep of my family. I grew up very poor, on welfare. My mom, a single mom of 4 kids, went to college. She pulled herself out of it. Even though she was going to school she cleaned houses for cash to send us to private school. Education was so important to her. She knew it was the only way we wouldn't end up like her. She is very much the black sheep of her family (because she's bettered herself), and in turn we are the black sheep to our cousins. They just don't understand us.

My mom is an amazing woman. I'll have to post the story some day...

Wabi said...

As family members, I think you owe your aunt and her son expressions of condolence for their loss. If you wanted to be really, really generous, you could have offered to kick in for burial expenses or for purchasing the baby its own cemetery plot. But that would have been beyond the call of duty, IMO.

I do not think you were obligated to give your aunt one of the spaces in the family plot for the baby. Plots expensive and finite. Including this baby of a far-flung relative in the plot would likely mean excluding someone else who knew and loved the other relatives resting there. And that's potentially a pretty big sacrifice, if the excluded relative takes comfort in the idea of being buried there.

At some gut level, it seems right to me that the baby is with her mother's family. I guess I feel like the baby only ever "knew" his/her mother, since he/she died in utero ...

Astarte said...

While I think your uncle was well within his bounds to say no, I feel bad for Becky's desperate attempt to insinuate herself into the situation. I'm sure she probably was ignored on purpose, given what you've said, and this was her way of maybe trying to be involved in her son's life.

I kind of wonder how the girl felt. If she was really that young, she may have been at least partly relieved that she doesn't have to raise a baby at this point in her life. It's still a terrible situation, though.

My father was the black sheep of his family. During the brief time I spoke to him, for about a year or so when my kids were younger, he refused to talk about them, or give me any information on them or where they were. That was part of the reason I stopped talking to him, actually, since it made me really nervous that he was so determined to keep me from talking to anyone who knew him.

Melissia said...

My thoughts are that the baby belonged with her mother's family. My guess is that the father would have been just a footnote in that child's life, whether that child had lived or not, and it was more appropriate to keep that baby with his or her mother. And yes, I have an Uncle Randy, so I understand what you are talking about.