(Song Dedication: Runaround by Blues Traveller)
I’ve never fully understood the use of Say Uncle as a way of a bully asserting their dominance over their victims, other than it is a nonsense term to force admission of submission between children, or more likely siblings of past generations. I was reminded of its peculiar use watching “A Christmas Story” with our son last weekend, when the neighbourhood bully Scott Farkus holds a smaller child’s arm behind his back until he screams “Uncle!!” at the top of his tiny lungs before being thrown into a snowbank. Oh the innocence of the 1900’s! Thems were the good old days.
Today I write in my own way to, in a sense, also submit. To Say Uncle, literally and figuratively to release myself from myself mostly. Because let me assure you, I have been dealing with my own bully the past several months, but it turns out when you are an adult the bully’s power is mostly in the victim’s head, and I’ve been holding my own arm behind my back at a very awkward angle. So in the spirit of no longer wishing to play the victim, I need to flip the narrative and allow myself to put down this heavy and frankly, shitty story I’ve been playing along with.
Since my trip to the UK in August to attend my Father’s funeral, a convoluted storyline has been unfolding between my Uncle and I, which in some ways began the day after the funeral, but in many ways had likely begun well before that.
You see, much to my surprise, my brother and I were named as the beneficiaries of our recently departed Father’s last will and testament. We were shocked. He had lived a modest, quiet existence in his last few decades due to his traumatic brain injury. Both my brother and I had made our own trips there to see him on our own terms well into the past, but as his final wish he wrote in his 2003 will that he wanted us to have his “residuary estate”. He also included a small monetary gift be given to his brother who was also appointed as the executor.
The day of the funeral was draining and exhausting, but it was nothing compared to the day that followed. That was the day that, while I was at my Father’s home looking through boxes of papers in hopes of finding clues and contact information about possible other siblings, that my Uncle had disclosed to me during our visit there in April, my Uncle interrupted me to ask me to sit at my Grandparent’s dining room table while he went through some “executor duties” with me.
I already had a sense of apprehension but did as he asked, knowing we were planning to spend the next 3 days together touring northern England to honour my Father’s wishes and scattering his ashes along with my Grandmother’s. My Uncle outlined the particulars of a very brief Will signed by my father and then proceeded to go over financial details of my Father’s estate. He had managed to save a bit of money over the years and wished for this to be shared between my brother and I. I was touched. This man gave us life, some genetics, our names, periodic moments of parenting few and far between and never paid our Mother child support. When you live as an addict, your money handling skills and prioritization kind of goes out the window. My Mom worked her ass off to make sure we had a roof over our heads, food in our belly’s and a somewhat functioning vehicle. There were times when the car would break down and Mom would call around looking for John to see if he could help when we were really strapped for cash, this was wasted energy. But here he was, now gone forever, a peace offering? An act of love and generosity towards the children he couldn’t parent or financially support when they needed him most?
And then my Uncle’s song and dance began, with “I propose…” and “the grey area here is…” and “we can all settle this nicely, it’s crystal clear really…” My Uncle was asking me for money. Substantially more than what had been stated in the Will. I listened and channelled all the inner calm I could muster to hear him out, to help myself form critically thinking questions to represent myself as an autonomous, strong woman. Thankfully my husband and I had just completed our Wills through a lawyer months before and so I was somewhat familiar with the territory he was trying to lead me through.
I was able to remove my emotions in the moment and ask questions of why he thought he was entitled to so much more? I asked him about his sister, should she too not be compensated on the basis of “next of kin” as he was claiming in his own right? I hit a nerve, as I watched his face darken and his jaw clench in anger, he spat back indignantly how undeserving she was to receive anything and how could I even suggest such a thing? His energetic about-face bristled up my spine and my instincts told me to not give any answer, to get up and get away as soon as I humanly could. I diffused the toxic leak by explaining I could not make any decisions without discussing with my brother and to please take me back to my accommodation.
When we got in his car, he continued to push his agenda. “If we agree to this….then I won’t need to contest the will…it’s crystal clear….” He carried on if not to reassure me, then certainly his own self that what he was doing was ok, ethical, probably even what his “brother really wanted”.
I quietly exited his car, trying not to run through the gate and lock the door to the little farm house I was staying in alone, across the Atlantic without my safe people to hold my hand and hug me and tell me they wouldn’t let him hurt me. Because at that moment, I was terrified and confused. I sat behind the safety of the locked blue door and thought quietly. And then I called my husband to tell him what had transpired and discuss what I needed to do next.
At first it was unthinkable that I should bail on this trip to scatter the ashes of my family and see the birthplace of my Grandfather, but to me it was more unfathomable that I should at the very least endure the constant pressure that I believed my Uncle would place on me until I gave him the answer he so desired. As I thought more of things that had been said, things that had been done, the way things had been carried out, there were so many red flags. I felt manipulated and I felt like he had groomed me, and my family, into believing his intentions were good.
My husband, although several thousand kilometres away, held me compassionately. We came up with a plan to bow out of the next few days politely and I was able to reach out to my home stay hosts, who were incredibly sensitive to my situation and helped every way that a stranger could. It was amazing to know I was going to get through this in some ways on my own and in other ways with the help I needed to see was there waiting for me to ask for it.
The next 24 hours were dramatic, a few friends who sensed something might have been off had gotten in touch, all bringing their own unique set of skills to encourage me through the coming days. My one friend though, she said, “You didn’t go there for the fucking money. Don’t let this be about the money now or you will regret it. Your Father didn’t want you sitting alone in fear googling UK estate law and executor duties, did he? (OMG, How did she know? She’s a witch!) No he wouldn’t. He would want you to try and soak up what you do have right now, which is a few extra days to yourself in one of the greatest cities in the world.” Well fucking Roger that. With my head pulled clearly from my ass, I took my camera and explored the city, and left the UK law to the UK lawyer handling the will.
During this time my mind began unfolding various stories. I was told enough by connections I had made on my own in the village where my Father lived out his remaining years, that I needed to proceed with caution when it came to my Uncle. Even without those confirmations, my gut said, move away, far, far away. For a person who has endured childhood trauma, following your gut can be the most difficult thing in the world when your body is use to reacting to everything with flight or fight. But my intuition, has grown much stronger recently, as I’ve taught myself to respond instead of react.
I was able to make it home and I felt pretty proud of getting myself through such an unexpected twist of events. But it wasn’t over yet, was it. Of course not, he didn’t have what he wanted and he still knew how to contact me.
The emails and direct messages came regularly, some updating the beneficiaries from the executor on the process. But most of the correspondence hovered like the vulture circling overhead. Have you spoken to your brother yet? Have you made a decision? What do you think about our private conversation? Followed by spoon feeding of executor duties such as, “yes the house is cleared” and “yes the house is listed” and “yes we have had two showings” all affirmative actions he was taking as the appointed person to act on our behalf. All things to try and lull us into a sense of all was well. But I knew it wasn’t.
The problem sounds like him right? But for me, it wasn’t. I would have also said it was him until 2 days ago actually. But here is what I chose to do since the inception of this whole fucked up mess. I chose to play along. I thought if I were to play nice and keep things amicable, if I could just play his game back for a few months, then when the dust settled I could be a hero. I had it all written out in my head. I would let him believe that I was dumb and naive and stall on giving him any inclination toward what would happen with the estate (because in all honesty, I didn’t actually know?!) So, I would play his game back.
This is problematic though. Because what I’ve learned over the past 5 months, especially, is I am not a con artist. I am a truth teller. And every time I pretended I was ok with his demands and untruths, I was letting him cash in on me. I was energetically tethering myself to him. The past month it’s as if I’ve suffered from Toxic Shock. I can barely sleep no matter how exhausted I am. I am short tempered. I am having little headache flashes and familiar chronic pain patterns. I am sad and hopeless. My anxiety has skyrocketed. My thoughts cycle obsessively. I have become frozen in my own dishonesty and suffering. I eat secretly to swallow the words and feelings I truly wish to express.
I endured this for the story I had allowed myself to tell me. If I can hold it together and be non-reactive to him and his manipulation, then my brother will be given the money he and his family deserve. If I can hold my tongue, my family will not suffer financially because of my choice to stop working with the security of a steady salary. If I can turn off my ego, then I can give my Mom some of the money she should have been given when she was raising us on her own. If I can allow his intentions and lies to roll over me without letting them stick, then I can finally prove my worthiness to my family that I am smart and capable.
After months of the charade, I had enough correspondence and heard from enough sources in the area that this was still all very convoluted and the executor wasn’t fully carrying out his duties. I wrote some emails and made some plans with my brother and in the end realized truly that everything our Uncle was saying was skewed by his own greed and perspective. As I put the facts of the story together, I came to realize that there may not be any money at all when this is all played out as it needs to. And so I said, WTF Sarah…it’s bad enough to do this for the money, what’s even worse is there is no money! There is no money guaranteed to you or your brother. You are making yourself sick by thinking you have something to prove. You are hurting your family by dedicating any of your time to this.
And maybe this is what my Father’s final wish was, to see his children stand independently and say no more. You can’t shame me and tell me I’m not good enough if I am not what you want me to be or if I don’t give you what you demand. I am enough. And I ask you to stop.
So this is what I did. Only two days ago. But finally.
I wrote my Uncle and said, “Stop. Stop asking us for money we don’t have. Please carry out your executor duties as you said you would when my Father asked you to carry out his final wishes. It was never his wish to see this family become further divided.”
And he said, “Okay” which I think is the equivalent to “Uncle”?
Since then, I am feeling well again. A little embarrassed certainly, that I let it go this far and that I believed I had the power to control the situation. I know I will continue to face these types of life-hurdles until I get it. But when I was able to frame it all clearly as a question of my worthiness, “Will my brother or my Mom love me less if I tell my Uncle no?” The answer was so easy. And you will see that I am not concerned with the love or approval of my uncle, and that is simply because he is unknown to me. I never had this Uncle and I never will. And I believe I am better for knowing this now. I am worthy. I do not need to be something I am not to gain love or acceptance. I am strong. I am intelligent. I am smart because I continue to learn and grow from life’s challenges. And all that is more valuable than money.