Nothing prepares us for long illnesses or for dying. All the skills and strengths we have built up are stripped away, and we are left without most of the things that brought us fulfilment and pride. Instead, we are dependent upon others, and we wish it wasn’t so. That can make us cranky, argumentative, or snarky.
Arguers like to debate for sport and they like to win, so I usually let them. The arguments themselves really don’t matter much to me. Snarky people, on the other hand, have an undercurrent of something nastier, and snarky comments really get to me.
If the snarky person is a close friend or family member, I don’t want to rock the boat by calling them out on their snark. No-one wants friction in the family, and the issue is usually so small that it hardly seems worth making a fuss. But it’s never just one snarky comment. It’s one more, and one more, and one more.
Snark is designed to undermine the victim, to make them feel stupid, or awkward, or embarrassed, or inferior in some way. Sometimes the snark is phrased as though it is a joke, or teasing, but no-one laughs. This leaves the victim in a quandary. They don’t know if they are being over-sensitive, or if they lack a sense of humour, or if they are just imagining that they are being picked on.
When my husband was dying, he gradually became snarkier. For about five of the eight years he was ill, while he became increasingly sick and disabled, his bitterness increased. I understood why and I sympathized, but it was not easy to live with. He would subtly criticize me for minor shortcomings and even for imagined shortcomings.
Sometimes I would be telling a story about something that had happened, and he would say or imply that I was wrong or lying. Once, after I had spent a long time finding and buying a laptop I thought he could enjoy using, he rejected the gift saying that I had really bought it for myself. I was devastated. As his physical strength declined, so did his ego. I think now that his sarcasm and petty attacks on me were an attempt somehow to raise himself up in his own eyes. If my ego strength was reduced, he could once again feel empowered.
I have since learned that this is not unusual when people are sick and dying. For example, my roommate said that a similar thing happened with her father. He had been a Vietnam vet and had many problems in his life, but his family never abandoned him. When he was dying at home he was often unkind to his wife and adult children. They didn’t deserve his nastiness, and they understood why he was being that way, but still it was hard for them to take.
When someone is rudely critical of a loved one, it hurts. It hurts even more if the snarky person has a smile on their face. It means they are trying to get “one up” on the other person, somehow to win an argument that hasn’t even begun. It comes out of left field, and the victim is left stunned and demoralized.
It took me a few years to get over the exhaustion and low self-esteem I felt at the end of my marriage, and even longer to realize why my kind and wise husband had become emotionally abusive. Now, though, I can enjoy looking at the old pictures of us in happier times. That’s how I prefer to remember him.
My experience as a caregiver makes me even more appreciative of nurses and home care providers than I was before. They must have to put up with a lot of patients who express anger, disappointment, frustration, and snark. I hope that when my turn comes I won’t be nasty, but if I am I hope my caregivers will call me on it. They should remind me very clearly that they really, really don’t deserve it.
Image source: TIME