Something Beautiful or Humorous: Apples that Eli painted

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Entanglement (Part 4 of 4)

Disentangling was pretty ugly. Myra didn’t take it well at all. She was at my door to ask for more bread, and could she come out of the heat again. I realized that my generosity had spurred a dependency after all. I said now wasn’t a good time because I needed to get on with the work of my day, and it was too difficult with a guest. I reminded her that we had helped her out a lot, given her a whole bag of groceries, and we didn’t regret the help we had given, but going forward, the frequency of our help was going to be much less. Our family needed to come first. I also told her (again) that she needed to take steps to help herself and solve the core of her problems instead of continuing to get temporary fixes.

She actually fought back! Pulled out the guilt weapon. “I didn’t know I was such an imposition. I’ll pay you for your food. I can write you a check. But what about that you told me you would drive me to the store sometimes? Does this mean I can’t visit your church? You’re not honoring your religion because you’re not taking care of widows.” I found it so unsettling to be arguing with a total stranger about whether they could have access to YOUR home and YOUR food.

For back-up and emphasis, I called Chris at work and had him explain to her our position while I listened on the other phone. Chris said he wanted to be clear what our limits were so there was no disappointment or confusion on her part in the future. He pointed out that the level of commitment she expected from me was more than I could give right now while taking care of our small children and that the county’s professionals were much more equipped to help her. They do that full-time and they have many, many more resources at their disposal.

Honestly, I think it all went in one ear and out the other. She went away really hurt and rejected after stalling and yapping for AN HOUR. It’s sad this had to happen, but I can’t beat myself up for the good intentions I had & the good deeds I’ve done.

Some good has come out of this.

  1. I’m pretty sure she’s a couple days farther away from dying now that she’s had at least a couple nutritious meals and a couple hours in the clean, cool air of our home..
  2. I’ve had a huge lesson both about giving out my phone number (ummm… that’s not going to happen again EVER! Yes, slap my hand about that one again. I’ll let you slap it. Go ahead.)
  3. I feel much closer to my kids & husband. After she left each time, I felt this huge need to pull them close to me and hold on to them tightly. I was just so excited to spend time with them without her there.
  4. I’m not sure why I felt the promptings that I did to give her some help. Why did Heavenly Father put her in my path? At this point, I’m pretty sure the main reason was to teach me to say NO!!!!!!!!!!!! But who knows. I’m still open to learn from God and I still trust him.
And some final thoughts about generosity. I realized that some of my generosity might have come from a place of fear. I was thinking, “If I don’t give my food, she might starve.” Faith should have a place in our giving (or inability to give) so that we can trust that God will take care of people! We can’t do all things for all people, but God can. Secondly, do we sometimes want to seem altruistic to others just for appearances? That one usually backfires on me. And lastly, yes, God wants us to be giving. But it should be 100% voluntary. When we start feeling trapped, I think it’s a warning sign saying you might want to get out of that situation.

Back to Quantum Leap, if I were Sam Beckett, would I actually call the county for help, feeling what this woman feels? Recently, I have had a chat with another neighbor who has lived in the neighborhood for a while & she provided me with the following rumors about Myra. She said that yes, Myra is actually certifiably crazy. Even before her husband died, she used to wander around the neighborhood in a sketchy way and kipe peoples’ UPS boxes from their front porches. She was institutionalized for a short time for schizophrenia* after her husband died. So of course everyone’s “out to get her.” Alarmingly, her home should probably be condemned. Trash never goes out of it, and there might even be a dead dog in there that no one has seen in a while. Her pipes burst a while back, were never fixed, so the fear is that she is in there with no running water. Perhaps she turns it on every now and then to fill up a bucket when she needs water, etc. She did say that she drinks only bottled water and sometimes gets her hair shampooed at Springfield Mall. She was wearing the same exact outfit Friday through Tuesday, and I’m sure she would still have it on if I saw her today. Ewwwwwwww!! Also, she probably has no electricity. That fits with the fact that she was out of food a day after I gave her a whole bag of food. Almost all I gave her was perishable. And no A/C, like she mentioned. I know all of this actually sounds more like a horror movie starring a backwoods scary old lady rather than a TV sit-com starring a handsome actor. Where was this info before I let her into my home these 2 times????? But my point is that she has good reason to fear the county. She stands to lose everything she owns, including her freedom from being confined in a mental institution.

Just so you know-- I am now definitely emotionally and physically as disentangled as I can get from that situation. Even though my emotions occasionally swing back and forth between pity, disgust, frustration, fear, and sadness, I am not conflicted anymore about what my actions need to be. Now it’s just a matter of literally and figuratively Lysol-ing & bleaching my entire house. It’s over (I HOPE!) & I just want to forget about it now that I’ve had the chance to dump my thoughts onto this blog. As tempted as I am to call the county health department about the suspicions that my friend has about her home, that would mean entanglement, and I am DONE WITH IT!!!!!!!!!!!

Has this ever happened to any of you? Or am I the only world’s biggest sucker? I would love to hear any stories you have about becoming more entangled than you wanted, and how you got free! Comment away.

*I have been around mentally ill people and studied it in law school, in depth in a “Mental Illness and the Law” class. The class was so excellent. We had a doctor from St. Elizabeth’s bring in a real brain for us to look at, and we had speakers who had suffered from major illnesses come in and speak. We visited a psychiatric hospital, and a great deal of the class was on the major illnesses themselves. In this footnote, I just want to say I never saw any visible signs that Myra had anything wrong with her other than maybe slight senility UNTIL we started saying “no” to her. I think she knew she needed to appear “normal” to us to get our help. Still, the mental illness stuff is just a rumor, but even if none of the rumors are true, I’ve had enough experience with her to know that to protect myself & my family, I have to stay as far away as I can.


Ryann said...

Yes, I had a very similar situation when I lived in VA Beach. The lady two doors down was a widow, in her 80s and very dependent on me. Luckily, she had electricity and spent most of her day in the yard. She rarely came over inside of my house. However, once we began randomly bringing her groceries or baked goods, she would request certain items. Most of the time I obliged because I knew that we were only there a limited time. I still wonder if anyone takes care of her since we moved. Mary was much less invasive than Myra though!

I am glad that you set up boundaries. I hope that she will abide by your rules!

Amy said...

Needy people love me. I spent a lot of years (mostly in college) taking care of emotionally needy people. I'd have a whole lineup of therapy "clients" calling every night. I felt like I should help them and I knew I could, but it took up all my time and was draining.

You mentioned feeling trapped or obligated to help her. I felt that way for a long time and I decided one day I wasn't going to do it anymore. I learned to say no and to avoid people I could sense were needy. I think I am now sometimes overly cautious about committing to a new friendship, but I am much happier now and I don't have that bad feeling in my stomach.

Myra will find someone else to depend on. She has managed to survive all this time. Someone should call the county about her, though--especially if she has mental problems. You can leave it to her next new friend, though.

The monkey bunch said...

Natalie, dear, I am an ER nurse and see these kinds of people all the time. She wasn't normal from square one and she definitely is mentally ill. I don't think that is in any way just a rumor. Anyone that has that many problems who is sane, gets help- real help, because like you found out, there is so much out there. It is only the crazy ones who stand getting locked up that fear the help they can get and make excuses not to. That is why the majority of homeless people are mentally ill. There really is nothing you can do for them. They don't accept real help, because that means they have to do something in return to get it and they can't commit to anything usually. It really is a sad situation, but you don't have what she needs- only God does, so give yourself and brake and maybe call the health department without letting them know who you are. She really needs to be institutionalized!

The monkey bunch said...

Ok, that's suppose to say, so give yourself a break and...
Yes, I do know how to spell.

Dana Broderick said...

wow! what a story and well written, i might add. it's one of those, my kids are yelling at me but i want to finish it and see what happens.

this has TOTALLY happened to me...or us, i should say a couple of times. (never anything this extreme.) last time it was in England. the lady we were helping didn't have a car and wanted a ride everywhere. i PLED for her to get a car but she wouldn't.

mental illness is a toughie's good to leave that to the professionals, seriously. i'm glad you are free from the stress of that situation. it's one of those that doesn't get any better and you made the right decision.

Michele said...

Wow! What a difficult situation. You made the correct analysis and Chris' advice was good too. Our families do come first and it is so sad to see others who struggle but our first obligations are to those we've brought into the world. The Lord certainly understands your heart but also recognizes your needs and obligations. When my parents were overseas in a poor country for several years, they said that seeing the poverty was the most difficult challenge of their stay. They appeared to have all the money in the world and people had no qualms about asking for it. In fact, Elder Oaks told the Americans not to help financially because that only made them more dependent. They needed to learn how to fish, so to speak. One of my big questions when I die will be "how was it determined the circumstances in which we would be born?" I feel so grateful but so unworthy too. We have truly been blessed.

April Cobb said...

You are like the kindest person EVER! People quickly recognize that I radiate meaness and don't even ask me. But your family comes first, and you don't have to be responsible for strangers. Two words, Nat: Elizabeth Smart.

Jenny said...

I think you did the right thing. It is unfortunate that some people do prey on other's kindness and I think we do have to follow the spirit so we don't end up being afraid to help anyone once we get burned.
I think you could probably make an annon call to the county though if you felt the situation needed to be checked out - especially if it's a health concern. Places like that attract rats and other yucky things. You shouldn't have to give your name or anything.

Sarah said...

I agree with the anonymous phone call suggestion--but only if you can do it without feeling 'entangled.' You have to be free from this.
Thanks for the fun memory you posted on my blog. I remember well our run in VA and the memory game you and April played--something with each letter of the alphabet that you would take on a trip. Remember? =)