How do love and abuse go together?
My sister Suzie has Down Syndrome. She requires care and supervision 24/7. We were lucky enough that the State found a woman to take Suzie into her home and provide that care. This woman, “Rhoda,” was wildly enthusiastic about Suzie and improving her life. She took it as a great project to get new clothes, fix up a nice room, and take Suzie everywhere with her, shopping (above all), visiting friends, church, etc. When we talked, Rhoda would constantly tell the new things she was doing for Suzie and how Suzie was talking more, was doing better. And this was true; I saw the improvements with my own eyes—more liveliness, a new enjoyment. Although I did notice that when we had lunch together, Rhoda did all the talking, without paying much attention to the Suzie who was actually there with us.
This past Monday I got a frantic message from my other sister, Kathy, and then a phone call from Suzie’s social worker. Rhoda had been seen at a large department store, yanking Suzie around and then leaving her for over an hour, while Rhoda went here and there in the store. It was all on the store's security videos. Rhoda denied it all and said she’d been right there, it must be someone had a grudge against her.
Love and abuse. I think Rhoda really loved Suzie, but she was also bossy and needed control, and was sometimes frustrated with Suzie’s slowness. I think Rhoda’s world centers on Rhoda, and my sister Suzie was…what? an object? a project?
I think back to my family where I grew up, and my father’s temper and his abuse. There was love there, that was the most confusing thing. But there was also abuse. My father loved me, but he failed to keep boundaries. As responsible adults we all have feelings of anger, impatience, and sometimes sexuality towards those we raise and care for. But it’s our job as grownups to have restraint, to know the feelings but not act on them badly.
Rhoda is no longer in charge of my sister Suzie. Suzie’s in a different home, a group home where she can be with others and be supervised by multiple staff, not depend on just one woman who probably was overwhelmed by the task. Right now Suzie is confused but she’s basically OK. The loss of Rhoda’s love makes me really sad for Suzie (and my own Inner Children are scared, angry, and grieving), but Suzie needs to be safe as well as loved.