I have a friend. Call her Claire. She has an illness which is catastrophic and progressive, and in her case genetic.
I wish that this were not so.
As a friend, Claire has always been ridiculously careful to make certain that she gave as much as she got.
She married a construction guy and has three daughters, lovely girls, kind, polite, bright, thoughtful. She is about to lose custody of them, due to her illness and the fact that, rather than pay child support and help her parent, the father has used this as an excuse to stop paying child support and snatch the kids, something she must now fight legally.
She has not done anything to bring on her current situation apart from marrying an asshole many years ago. I spoke today with another of Claire's friends. This woman, call her Amanda, is far more competent than I am in so many ways. She is an interior designer, doing well, married to an architect. Her house is organized and neat, her children's birthday parties both spontaneous--(foot and finger-painting as an activity)--and planned to within an inch--(with walls and floors were prepped by having sheets taped up all over them.) She is socially deft. I have watched in admiration as she walks through some challenging political parent stuff. Which there is, just like in those "How does she do it," novels.
Amanda, too, thinks Claire is the most deserving of folk. That she has been an inspiration. That to watch her fail after all her hard work and steady upward climb is excruciatingly painful.
Lately, Claire's middle child has openly declared allegiance to the Dad who grabbed her, and who fills her head with lies--"I don't have to pay child-support." "If I don't pay child support, she'll just have to get a job like the rest of us." And never mind the realities of her disease, the constant, intense pain and exhaustion, the ways it affects her thinking.
We have both watched Claire struggle with Welfare and our state's medical insurance plan for the adult parent of young children. She was denied disability, because she did not yet have the paperwork from a major clinic documenting her illness. She needs to appeal, something very hard to do when a disease is clouding up your good, smart brain and you can't afford the meds to treat it.
She sleeps long hours, which is a part of the disease--constant fatigue. She is always in the grip of excruciating pain. Despite this, until recently, she was the go-to-mom on the playground for snacks, the volunteer mom for helping the teacher or field trips.
I am planning to call her today and tell her that I get it if this fight is too hard, too much for her. I get that it may be too much for her, fighting welfare and disability and a dad playing nasty and one child who has decided she has to declare allegiance now because Mom's going to die. I will understand if she does give up, if she literally just curls up and dies. And she has already done far more for her daughters than her own druggie mother was ever able to do for her. Claire has been a steady, disciplined, loving mom. Her girls were, until Dad grabbed them, shining, happy children, despite the divorce and custody battle. The school librarian has said they are some of the best, kindest kids in the school. It is gut wrenching to understand how little our society cares, about children, about mothers, about what is best for both. It is gut-wrenching to see someone like Claire--someone who has steadily grown, learned, kept on going, someone truly inspiring, be literally destroyed by a system that cares so little. It is like watching Les Miserables--except this is now and this is real and this is a woman who four years ago seemed someone to envy--with the big house and the big car and three shining daughters.
If I had the funds, I would put them into an attorney for her disability battle and for her custody battles. But I don't. I don't know how much or what I can do.
If I let her, Claire will pull away of her own volition as she falls. She will sleep and not call and not return my calls. That's her way under extreme stress--isolate and not be a burden. But is it right for me to let her pull? How hard can I--should I--hold on? What kind of a world do I want to live in? What kind of values do I want to teach my children?
How I wish I were not having to ask these questions. How I wish that I, too, were one of the innocent ones who believe in what I think of as a Santa Claus God, someone who takes care of you as long as you behave well. How I wish I could sit at home, safe in the knowledge that God will take care of me, because I'm smart and good and if He's not taking care of Claire, well, it's all her fault. Safe.
How I wish that we, as a culture, truly did support family values. The values of this woman's family that have made her children a delight and her life an inspiration to Amanda and I, with her strong moral fiber and her mother's love.