Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Forgotten Aunt

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 2, 2013


Zoe, from my previous post about siblings, gets the sudden, although not surprising news that her father is in the hospital. Sean, eighty-six, has multiple medical problems, but still, it always catches Zoe by surprise when there is a medical incident. This time, Sean had pneumonia, requiring an inpatient stay. Zoe goes to visit and she begins to wonder about her dad’s sister, an aunt, that she has no memory of ever meeting. Sean tells Zoe to call Aunt Fay, and so within minutes, both Zoe and Fay are crying on the telephone. Fay, ninety-two, tells Zoe that she thinks about her every day and that she has kept up on Zoe’s life by her daily phone calls to Sean. Upon hearing about Sean’s pneumonia, Fay immediately says “it is because he is with all  those women. You have to tell him to slow down.” Fay tells Zoe, as if the two of them are close. Zoe leaves from seeing her dad deteriorate suddenly, with sadness, along with the odd happiness of “meeting” her 92-year-old aunt. Zoe talks to me about her mixed feelings with a heavy heart, both in terms of her dad’s deterioration and in terms of her yearning for a part of her family she never met. Zoe explains to me that her mother, Claudia, did not like Fay. Claudia never allowed her children to spend time with her, and Sean, although very close to Fay, agreed. Zoe, still recovering from her emotional wounds from Berkeley, is further faced with her family dynamics in which there were deep divides. Suddenly Zoe has another memory from her conversation with Fay. “You know she said that my mom never let us meet because we looked alike and we are both really pretty. It was such a strange comment, but I do look like my dad’s side of the family, and that could have something to do with why my mom treated me poorly.” Zoe says, with wonder, as if she does not quite believe her own words. Zoe is now immersed in more family dynamics because she cares for her dad, but this forces her to interact with her siblings. I listen and I imagine Zoe’s subjectivity. I imagine Zoe, with her dad’s illness, thrown back to her childhood memories, which bring up lies, betrayals, and heartless attempts to create children who reflect well on their parents. Once again, listening is a deep experience, like reading a good novel, takes me to a deep place, filled with my thoughts and associations to Zoe, both the Zoe of the present and the Zoe of the past.

4 Responses to “The Forgotten Aunt”

  1. Ashana M said

    The first thing that comes to mind is that there Aunt Fay does not respect typically appropriate boundaries. You don’t tell someone–even an adult–that their father is seeing too many women. You don’t expect her to be able to control an able-bodied man either. The next thing that strikes me is that Aunt Fay feels a closeness to Zoe that wouldn’t be felt naturally–they haven’t met since Zoe was small. Any significant connection between them is purely in Aunt Fay’s imagination. It then strikes me that Aunt Fay touches on their similarity, and throws in some flattery while she is at it. So, the attempt to bond with Zoe over their appearance seems manipulative–an attempt to forge an alliance for some particular gain. It’s hard to really say, but Aunt Fay seems like a rather toxic individual–who may be one of many toxic individuals in Zoe’s family. Some families live and die by an attempt to divide its members into good and bad parts and an attempt to locate one or a few disordered members who are to blame for all of the family’s problems. But it is usually everyone who contributes to the family’s problems, or very nearly everyone. There are very few pockets of sanity. Still, the longing for roots and a safe harbor can be blinding.

  2. Shelly said

    This fictional blog of Zoe and Berkeley is really sad. It seems that Zoe has a tragic life and that she is so isolated in her family. Is she the only one in her family with normal feelings and emotions? Why the lies and deceipt? Why the divisions? Why did Zoe’s father agree to prevent contact with Aunt Fay over all the years of Zoe’s life simply because Claudia didn’t like Aunt Fay? If Sean and Fay were so close, then Sean should have put his foot down and insisted that Fay be part of the family. If Claudia disliked Fay because Zoe and Fay “looked alike,” then what did that say about Claudia and Sean’s relationship, and how did that affect Zoe’s self-image(the knowledge, since Zoe now knows the reason why Fay wasn’t allowed into her life)? What a terrible thing for a child (of any age!) to know!

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