Don't I write about this sort of thing every other month?
My mother called when I was out at the store but didn't even ask for me when she got D. "Just tell her the shampoo came. I don't want to disturb her."
Remember how it works in my family? Nothing is communicated directly. It all gets conveyed via subtext.
I called her back. She sounded tired. I asked her a few indirect questions, and she kept being evasive and shifting the conversation back to how much her hair needed to be washed because it had been three full days and it felt very limp.
[The shampoo thing is another story entirely. She ran out of her favorite shampoo more than a month ago but, since she stopped going to her favorite hair person, hadn't bought any more shampoo because she didn't know you could buy it elsewhere. She thought you could only get it at a certain kind of salon. For the last month, she's been putting water in the old bottle to try to get every last morsel of soap. When I found out this was happening, I ordered her the largest bottle of her favorite shampoo, and it came today. Earlier this week I told her to please let me know if there's anything she needs... we'll figure out how to get it.]
So I shifted my course and asked questions in a different way, still indirect. Finally she told me that things are better now but that my dad had been in the hospital this week, having another transfusion. "Same old thing," she said.
How many times has this happened? How many times has he been in the hospital for some sort of emergency and I am told about it after he's back home eating jello?
I tell her again, gently, "Mom, you really need to let us know when this happens." After she defended herself by saying that there was absolutely nothing I could have done, I told her that I could have thought loving thoughts at the very least. (Meanwhile, my mind checked off all of the real things I could have done: walk their dog, put out the trash on Wednesday, sit with my mother, bring her coffee, find a good magazine for her, bring her a sandwich and a silly picture of E. Does she think I wish I could put on a nurse's cap and save the day? Does she imagine me pacing the hospital's floors like someone in a soap opera? I wouldn't do that either. Concrete, simple things I can do.)
She asked how D's mom was doing after her procedure, and I realized that part of the reason she didn't call was that she thought I was busy with my M-I-L. "Come on, Mom... that was a morning procedure. I need to know what's going on with you and dad even if I'm busy with E, D, L, or R. Just let me know."
She won't let me know next time either. Sometimes I worry she'll call me a couple of weeks after he's been cremated to let me know he's dead. She leaves me no opportunity to feel or act in response to anything that's really happening in their lives.
This leaves me in a very weird place.