dying isn’t just about the one person doing the dying
October 28, 2019 2:43 PM   Subscribe

A Woman’s Work: Till Death Do Us Part: Carolita Johnson considers the emotional and physical labor required of women as their loved ones die. [Longreads] "I’ve come to understand [...] dying isn’t just about the one person doing the dying. It’s an undertaking woven by and around many people, and this has a certain beauty."
In a couple, though, along with the unfathomable strengths it can prove, it also has the potential to expose deep, carefully camouflaged structural flaws in a relationship. It imposes financial considerations and logistical burdens, sometimes revealing unsuspected shabbiness; or worse, deliberate malice.
posted by readinghippo (11 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Carolita Johnson: previously, even previouslier, previousliest
posted by Alison at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

And another!
posted by mochapickle at 5:13 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've reached the age where some of my peer cohort are widowed, and, yeah, it strips the relationship bare and all the great and terrible things are laid out to see. And then, I've watched the surviving partner attempt to reassemble, having not just lost their partner, but also lost taking care of their partner, which has been a focus point for their lives for however long.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:38 PM on October 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

That was so beautifully honest, I really appreciate her ability to tell a complicated story.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:25 PM on October 28, 2019

Wow. Thank you for posting.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:07 PM on October 28, 2019

That was really powerful - thanks for posting. I'll be sharing that at work. We need more writing this good, especially writing that raises some tough questions.
posted by YoungStencil at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2019

It's fascinating to read this and the other pieces linked above as a collection. You get the sense that she's reliving it, turning it over and over, going over the details, trying to make sense of the thing.

In reality, Michael was as poor a partner in health as he was in dying. The deep flaws weren't carefully camouflaged at all -- he never really legitimized her/their relationship with his family, she went into debt to make him happy and later on to ease his death and ending up penniless herself, he was a cheater with a long history of cheating.

But she loved him, and he loved her*, and vulnerability always slants the balance.

(*As someone like him could. People are complicated.)
posted by mochapickle at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have this friend. For the last three years she has been in the process of leaving her husband. The man is as checked out of the marriage as it is possible for a person to be: they have not been on a date in over a decade, he has said he doesn't love her, he sends thousands of dollars a month from the family savings to his parents but lies to his wife about it, he does literally 0% of the childcare and pays literally 0% of his own kid's costs, etc. She loves him, though. She blames his parents for taking all their money. She blames the patriarchy for his failure to be a dad. She says he doesn't mean the things he says about not loving her, and anyway, she loves him. "He's really not so bad," she'll say, while sobbing about the latest $10,000 that has disappeared from their joint savings account. "He means well. He's a softie." Occasionally, she gets quite angry with him and then she'll say, "Nobody could ever suspect that he's so manipulative and cunning underneath his charming exterior. He has everyone fooled!" I tell her he doesn't have anybody fooled except for her: he gets fired (fired!) from jobs every year or two, her parents don't like him, her sister doesn't like him, every friend she has ever had has - within a week or two - asked her what the fuck is wrong with her husband. She doesn't seem capable of hearing this.

I was her, until three years ago. My ex husband was controlling, abusive, and even, sporadically, rapey. I used to think he was the most charming man that ever walked the earth. A heart of gold. A sweet, sincere, earnest man who just couldn't help yelling in my face for buying a cup of coffee because he just didn't know any better. I wouldn't even have said his abusiveness and manipulativeness was "carefully camouflaged": that would imply that he possessed the capacity for insincerity, and no no no, you don't understand, this is the most guileless man that ever lived. I left him because I could no longer deny that he was hurting me, but until the last day and for these three years after leaving him, I still can't believe he meant to. As if that makes a difference. As if any abuser (outside of the rare "true" psychopath, perhaps) in the real world is ever motivated by a desire to cause pain. As if there's ever, ever anything more to evil than an unthinking entitlement for one's own comfort at other people's expense.

I'm beginning to understand that this is the nature of an attachment relationship. The ability to see a damaging person as a dangerous person is only given to us when we are not in an attachment relationship with them. Love isn't blind... love is numb. Love is when the circuits of our brains are hijacked by a primeval survival mechanism that prioritizes above all else our faith in the goodness of the beloved, even at the expense of our pain. If love didn't hack our brains this way, we would die as babies, all of us, on the day our mothers weaned us from her breast. We would have pushed her away, avoided her, never trusted her again after that betrayal... if not for the attachment brain hack. (If you are leery of the legacy of psychoanalysis, as I am, for mother substitute any caregiver. For weaning from the breast, substitute any action that a baby might interpret as abandonment - anything from putting you in the crib alone at night to physical harm, neglect, or other abuse.)

The deck is stacked against us when the very people we are biologically hardwired to make excuses for the very people to whom society grants all the power over us. In this particular way, women (and some other classes of people like people with disabilities) are a class apart from, say, people of color. We necessarily form attachment relationships with our oppressors. Like. We're so fucking screwed, man.
posted by MiraK at 2:21 PM on October 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

(Apologies for the heteronormativity/other incorrectness above. I'd like to correct myself: het women and other women who love men in romantic or non-romantic contexts are driven to form attachment relationships with our oppressors.)
posted by MiraK at 2:36 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Once, while we made love, I looked up at his body and thought I was hallucinating: it looked like his skin was melting, like a candle. It was simply age; his skin had lost its elasticity, and was beginning to hang from him."

This will haunt me forever. The whole article was pretty haunting but that imagery is something else. This was a good read into the ugly part of aging and death that people don't like to talk about in person.
posted by Finch at 7:04 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it really makes me think how much I don't want to marry someone a lot older than I am. Oh god, I can't even.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:05 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

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