I've been reading from the Evergetinos for my Lenten reading, and the subject has been repentance. I can't help but think about my mother-in-law and how hard she tried to be a good person to all around her and failed miserably. She was a very pious Roman Catholic and attended mass daily. I know she tried her best to follow Christ's example in all she could to the best of her understanding, but still she failed in the "game of life." I can't help but wonder about this. My mother-in-law was mentally ill. She died when Hurricane Katrina washed away the house she was staying in with some friends. But as I said, she was mentally ill. She suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder with narcissistic and paranoid features. This means that she did not relate well to other people. She was a very good person down deep where she, herself, lived and existed; but her life-long experiences of both real and perceived rejection taught her that she was inferior, no good, would never measure up, was unlikeable and unloveable. She learned all her life that no matter how hard she tried to make friends, to be a good person, to fit in, it was just a matter of time before something would happen to destroy forever all she had worked so hard to build up. She could not see that her constant expectation of rejection and her deeply held belief that she really was actually at core a bad person in spite of how much she tried to be good (it didn't matter that this erroneous belief was hammered into her brain from her lifetime of rejections--how could she not believe it after such a life?) was actually pushing people away from her. She would get close to a person or two and be on cloud nine. She would be so happy that she had finally left the pain of rejection behind forever. Then something inevitably would happen, because life is not static. She would not be able to handle life's problems and troubles as well as other people because she did not have the lifetime experience of care and support that so many other people had. So, when troubles came she lashed out. She truly felt and believed that she was literally fighting for her life. And she was, actually. She was fighting for her own existence, because in her mind, when troubles came and the people around her, whom she had come to believe were her friends and loved ones, or at least people who held positive regard for her, did not or were not able to help her through the bad time, she perceived their inability, or unwillingness, to help as an attack on her. She felt that they were in effect discounting her, devaluing and dehumanizing her as a person--taking away her existence. Her sensitivity to perceived rejection increased exponentially as she grew older because of her many experiences, both real and perceived. This life-long constant expectation of rejection increased the violence of her reactions to life's ups and downs. Now, granted, not all of "life's downs" were just "downs." Some of them were serious, and she actually did get help from those around her, but by then she had so many years of bad experiences behind her that she could not believe that those who helped her did not have a hidden agenda against her, or at least secretly despised her and just "acted" nicely to her. So, finally, she drove off everyone in her life--all her childhood friends, all her siblings and relations; everyone. She lived out the final decade of her life far away from anyone who had known her when she was a girl, or a young wife and mother, or as a mature woman and grandmother; she drove away her only child and all her grandchildren. Despite all her efforts to the contrary, she simply could not believe that she was a valuable person, although she did not think in those terms. She just knew that everyone was against her and had rejected her in spite of her love and care for them--even her own family--and she continually fought against that, because to cease fighting meant to admit that she was nobody, a nothing, a truly at-core bad person and someone to be avoided like the plague at all costs. She was still unable to just relax and believe that people really did care for her; that she didn't have to constantly test their love or look for hidden agendas. She did make friends in that last decade of her life, some very good friends. However, I can't help but wonder if she didn't still feel terribly alone. How can one not feel alone when one has irrevocably lost one's past?
Unfortunately, my mother-in-law was so ill that she was beyond recovery; but I wonder if she could have been an entirely different sort of person if someone in her youth had cared enough to stay with her, to be someone to whom she could always point and know loved her and accepted her--most importantly accepted her--in spite of everything? Could such a person exist? Has anyone the strength required for such a herculean, life-long effort? Perhaps not. I know people who tried to help her and failed over and over again until they had to stay away from her for their own health.
How hard it is for those who do love and care for a person like my mother-in-law, and I believe there are many people in society today who suffer as she did. How hard it is to constantly take the paranoia, and sometimes downright abuse, and continue to show care and concern. How much can those who love such a person be expected to endure? Do they not, also, suffer to see her suffering? Are they not also doomed to a life of regret for the "what might have beens"?
May God, the Lover of mankind, have mercy on us and teach us repentance.