Guest post by Thorn
I just wanted to take a moment, before getting into Part II, to
thank everyone for the compassionate response I received to Part I.
I’ll be honest – I’d been petrified to put it up there, but also felt
like it was something I needed to do. I spent yesterday compulsively
checking comments, except when took my kids to the park for a while,
before they drove me crazy. I’d much rather have stayed at the
computer and responded to every single comment, for all that I imagine
it would have meant spending most of the day with tears running down
my face. Even so, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call “dry-eyed”
The comments tore me up. I know my mom’s experience was not especially
unique. I know the way she was treated is altogether too common for
fat women and men to endure. But I was absolutely not prepared for how
many of you came forward with similar tales of your own, of how you
and/or your loved ones were dismissed or disregarded by people who are
literally oath-bound to help us.
I spent yesterday overwhelmed by sadness, for my own sake and for the
sakes of all of us who are at the mercy of these so-called healers.
This is dreadful. It is awful and unconscionable. How can we live in a
world where the quality of our health care is determined, essentially,
by how attractive our doctors find us??
Thank you all again, for your condolences and kind words, and thanks
especially to those of you who shared your own stories.
I wish I could say that the anger at the
doctor lab-coated shit-stain whose callousness contributed to my mom’s death is the sum of all the anger I’m struggling to cope with these days, but it’s not. I wish I could say that first part was the end of my Hating The Fat-Haters story.
But it’s not.
My mother dying because some doctor fat-shamed her out of believing she deserved health care ought to be enough, certainly is enough, to make me want to wreak some violent revenge on fat-haters everywhere.
But alas, there’s more.
Because the fat-hating didn’t end with my mother’s former doctor.
I mentioned before that I moved out-of-state several years before my mom’s death. It’s not too far, just 120 miles, but far enough to make just shooting down there for an afternoon impossible, especially with a coupla kids in the mix.
I got the call that my mom had died on a Thursday afternoon. I called my husband, who naturally rushed home to be with me. We then decided that we would leave the next day and stay with my sister for the duration of the funeral arranging and everything.
So Friday we drove down, arrived at my sister’s, and Rose (not her real name, but it goes nicely with Thorn, don’t you think?) and I made arrangements for our collected kids and my husband while she and I joined my grandfather, one of our aunts (Joan*) and one of our uncles (John*) the next day. We’d meet at Grandpa’s, then go to the florist, the funeral home, and finally the church where Mom’s Funeral Mass would take place.
Saturday morning we got everyone situated and then my sister and I headed out. Rose’s cell phone rang as we turned onto Grandpa’s street. It was Aunt Joan, wondering where we were. I remember being restless and kind of pent-up emotionally – it would be the first time I’d seen my mother’s family since learning of Mom’s death. I was torn between wanting to cry with them, that whole sharing grief and comforting each other thing, and wanting to keep a good Stiff Upper Lip going, since we had a lot of things to take care of that afternoon.
Aunt Joan rushed out to meet us as we got out of the car and proceeded to lecture us about how we need to not take it personally if Grandpa was “testy” because “he’s devastated.”
As you might guess, my aunt’s got a real way of just saying the most appalling things like they’re nothing, and this was no exception. Rose and I tried to overlook the implication that somehow we were just jolly about the sudden death of our mother and silently nodded and shared a good “God, I wanna slap her” glance before we headed into the house. Uncle John came out midway through Joan’s lecture about Grandpa’s emotional state, said, “I’m sorry kiddo,” to me and hugged me. At which point Joan kind of looked annoyed and said in the most rote, insincere way possible, “Oh yeah. Sorry Thorn.” (She’s a real people person, can’t you tell?)
Once inside, Grandpa and Rose updated each other on calls they’d each made, having started a lot of the arranging Friday, and then Grandpa said he was going to get ready so we could go.
At which point Joan said, “I need to say something.” We all stopped and looked at her. She looked uncomfortable, which was kind of shocking already, and then went on. “I don’t mean to be offensive or anything,” at this Rose and I looked at each other with alarm. What could be so awful that Joan was aware that her words might be offensive???
Joan went on. “Your mom’s death was preventable. Your mom didn’t have to die. She was 53 years old, that’s too young. She was lucky, she had her kids early.” She then looked at my sister and I with her eyes wide, I suspect to indicate her “earnestness” and said, “You two need to see your doctors. You need to do whatever you need to do to get healthy. You don’t want your kids to grow up without a mother. I know how hard it is to lose your mother, mine died only two years ago! You don’t want your kids to go through that. So… just see your doctor. Get healthy so you can see your kids grow up.” There was a long pause. “I just needed to say that.”
Rose and I stood there silent, in shock for a moment.
Seriously? Joan’s big “offensive” thing was to call us fat? Seriously?? Did she think we don’t have mirrors?
Then Grandpa chimed in. “It’s not easy, I know. I’ve had to give up eating sausage and I walk a couple miles a day every day now in the morning. I’ve been doing that for a couple months now and I’ve lost 17 pounds. It’s not easy – you know how much I love sausage – but it’s your health.”
John had the grace to look uncomfortable, but that didn’t stop him from mumbling something as well, about how he also knew it wasn’t easy, but by then I’d kind of stopped listening.
They knew how hard it was? Grandpa had never been more than 30, maybe 40 pounds overweight. I weigh 280 pounds. I could lose 17 pounds and not even notice!
John and Joan? They knew how hard it was?? As if any of my mom’s siblings had ever managed to be more than 20 pounds overweight! Neither of my aunts had ever even had a problem losing their pregnancy weight, never mind gaining anything besides!
John was on medication which actually made it /difficult/ for him to gain weight, and was naturally on the slim side to begin with. What the FUCK did they know about how hard losing weight was?
Rose and I assured them we were seeing our doctors regularly and that everything was fine. Rose – being better at this game than I – even thanked them for their concern.
Finally someone changed the subject and we managed to get out of there so we could go to the florist to order flowers for my mother’s wake.
My aunt, uncle and grandfather got into my aunt’s car. My sister and I got into her car and shut the doors. We sat there a moment in stunned silence. “Did Joan just say what I think she said?”
“The bit about how we’re lard-asses and if we were better mothers we’d drop everything to be skinny like her?”
“That would be the part.”
“Yeah. She can go to hell.”
We cussed out Joan on the way to the florist, managed somehow to get through that entire ordeal, and then managed to shake the rest of them for our trips to the funeral home and the church.
In case anyone was curious, so far as I can tell there is no event so emotionally devastating that you can’t make it worse by calling someone on the carpet in front of other people to lecture them about how fat they are.
We were able to ditch my aunt, but her words lingered.
They permeated everything.
We tried to let them go, but it was impossible. We should have been focusing on saying good-bye to our mother. Instead we found ourselves fuming again and again over what had been said, the hundreds of different ways it was thoroughly unjust.
Saturday night Rose and I sat up until the wee hours sorting through photographs, finding pictures of Mom to put up on poster boards for the wake. After Rose went to sleep, I sat up, trying to write some kind of eulogy for my mother, despite all our differences. If I didn’t do it, I knew no one would. But Joan’s words kept echoing in my head, and instead of my mom’s eulogy, I wound up writing the precursor to this guest-blog series. No one ever did write Mom a eulogy.
Originally, we had planned to spend Sunday working on the poster boards with our aunts. But we were both still much too angry at Joan, so instead, we opted to work on them at our dad’s, who was happy to help out. For all that he and Mom had divorced years before, they’d always managed to remain cordial for my and Rose’s sakes.
We had a hell of a time with those poster boards. Neither of us could concentrate – we were still so pissed off. At one point I was telling my dad about what had happened, when I realized that Rose was in the next room, on the phone with our Aunt Brenda* telling her about what had happened.
Rose said Brenda planned to give Joan a stern talking-to about it. “Joan really should have waited a few weeks for that,” she said.
I tried not to scream my fury about how that was really not the point.
When my grandmother died, two years ago, I remember her wake and funeral as being very healing. We all cried, we all shared our grief and comforted each other. I remember feeling closer to my mother’s family than I had felt in a very long time, possibly ever.
I contrast that with how I felt during my mother’s wake and funeral. I cried a lot, of course, and I hugged everyone, even Joan. I cried and snotted all over Uncle John’s lapel. He’d always been my favorite uncle, and fatphobic comments didn’t change that. But I didn’t feel close to the family. I didn’t feel healed or comforted. Because through it all, some small part of me was seething.
Where was that closeness I’d felt after Grandma’s funeral? Where was that unity? Here I was, in my hour of greatest need, and all I could do was look around and wonder who to trust. I looked at my aunts and uncles, at Mom’s cousins, at the whole family, and I couldn’t stop wondering who was judging me and how. Do they think because I’m fat that I’m a bad mother? That I’m lazy? Or greedy? Or that I lack self-control? That I’m stupid?
Joan’s words had isolated Rose and I, had othered us from our own family. We had been deemed unfit, just like our mother had been unfit, and we felt ostracized, at a time when what we needed was comfort and support. I mean, our mother was dead. We were supposed to be angsting over what to do for her for Mother’s Day, not pillaging The Avenue for something to wear to her funeral.
But we didn’t get that, because Joan was so worried about our “health.”
I’ve often thought, in the two months since, that if Joan was really so worried about my and my sister’s health, perhaps she ought to overlook our fat asses, and worry more about our broken hearts.
* Names changed to protect me, not the fatphobic.