Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

On (My) Family

I’ve got a lot of years behind me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes related to family. But what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care for my family, especially for the way my children turned out. I don’t know what their memories of me are, as none of them have the guts to speak with me, even though I’ve never closed off any doors to them. They, on the other hand–and for reasons they have chosen to keep from me–have shut off any means of communication there can possibly be.

As a student of human nature, I observe and see both the deliberate misinterpretations and the meanness with which my adult children choose to withhold communication. Both are involved with significant others who are nice enough and smart enough in their own right, but who have severe limits in acceptance of differences. But then, the same is true of my children, so the matches are probably heaven-sanctioned. For a while, I was hurt by responses–or lack thereof–related to the only visit I have made to them in many, many years. My own frustration to being shunned upon my return home turned to anger and outright and open vehemence. Upon further reflection, I realized that I simply do not like either my children or their mates, mostly because my own children have chosen to ignore the concepts of both individual differences (specifically in the person who gave them life), of acceptance of the reality of aging, and the ability to weigh the many sides of an issue to determine future action/interaction. Clearly, I had been judged and sentenced without the luxury of speaking in my own defense.

As I have aged, I have suffered from a series of ailments which have left me in severe pain 24/7. Two months ago, I suffered a bout of extreme blood loss from a surprise attack of bleeding ulcers which ended up requiring the transfusion of 6 liters of blood. This can be a fatal attack if one is alone when such a bout occurs. Had my husband–from whom I was ready to seek a divorce–not been home at the time (the attack occurred at 2:00 a.m.), I would have died from the blood loss. He immediately called the community guard who called for an ambulance. Although I was floating in and out of consciousness during the 20-minute drive to the hospital, the intravenous delivery of fluids helped to stabilize me enough to get me to the hospital, where I received an immediate transfusion of blood and kept in the Intensive Care Unit for several days. For the first time in our marriage, and despite rare visits from him when I underwent 4 major surgeries (during one of which I actually died on the operating table and needed to be revived), he was at the hospital with me this time for hours at a time, trusting his fellow faculty at the local medical school to cover for him when he was with me. This was a major feat for my husband, who doesn’t drive, and who had to pay for taxi service each trip. All previous hospitalizations were no more than a city block from his office, and yet he rarely visited. If he did, he spent no more than 5 minutes with me because he had to catch the shuttle to the train station or bus depot. So his frequent and long visits during the bleeding ulcer recuperation was a huge surprise that changed the dynamic of our relationship forever.

Just prior to this attack, we had decided to seek help for our 24-year marriage instead of just ending it outright, either formally or informally. The sudden realization that I almost died on him made him realize that he was actually afraid to lose me, despite all our differences. The effort that he made to visit me frequently–often more than once a day–touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched by anything he did in many years. Thus, we are making great efforts to try to change the way we interact as well as our expectations of each other. We are both taking the continuation of this marriage very seriously. To me, I now know that he actually cares.

Meanwhile, although I posted on Facebook from the hospital, neither my two children nor my sister made any effort to wish me well, or to at least check to see how I was doing. My mother uses no electronic devices, but lives with my sister, and I know would have made an effort to call me if my sister had mentioned my illness to her. Thus, my sister either did not see any of my posts, leading me to believe that I had been blocked from her news feed, or simply didn’t care enough to mention it to my mother. That I had been blocked from my children’s feeds was obvious even before I was hospitalized, although it is not clear to me why my son chose to block me. But then, he ignored any communication I tried to initiate with him since my return home from my visit with him as well, whether via post, email, or direct telephone contact attempt. Upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist–whom I had been seeing since before the visits to my children and sister because I was trying to make sense of my relationship with my husband–suggested I write a letter to my son, who, as far as I knew at the time, was not shunning me. Since there has been no response of any kind, I guess I received my answer about my place in his life. In addition, I wrote to my 86-year-old mother letting her know what my situation had been and simply giving myself a sense of closure, in the event I would have no further direct contact with her. My husband is not good at thinking about letting family members know about any important events, so there was no expectation from me that he would contact family to let them know what was happening with me–although it is clear that none of them would have cared anyway (except my mother).

Since my illness, I have come to realize that family is not everything–at least, not blood relations or in-laws. The people I now feel closest to are people who are not related by blood or marriage (except my sister-in-law and her family). These are friends, whose friendships I cultivate when I can; with each of these individuals, I have had more individual contact than with my biological family as a whole. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the meaning of the concept that family does not need to comprise ancestral kinship. Family is those people with whom one can be oneself, even when one is cantankerous  or when one makes unthinking remarks. I am finding I have Family all over the US and on this small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten to whom I feel closer than with my biological family. This Family allows for my idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions without believing that I am being “dramatic” or self-indulgent. This Family understands when I take different positions–usually in a single 5-minute interval–because they know I am continuing to attempt to make sense of my world. In other words, they think the same way I think, even if we disagree at a given moment or on a particular point. I like to explore and weigh my thoughts out loud and through practice,and my Family is OK with that. My Family has no problem with being honest with me–often brutally–knowing that I will weigh all their comments and reactions, and apologize when needed or argue my case better when I disagree. These are the people I love and respect beyond measure, and they come from all walks of like–cultural, religious, professional, etc.

Thus, my initial hurt at the shunning by my purportedly Christian family was very quickly replaced by a sadness over the loss of their love and/or caring. For years I have known that I love my sister-in-law more than my sister, and have developed a respect for my niece(in-law) for her courteousness, including the simple written or spoken “thank you” for even the smallest gifts. Not one of my grandchildren has ever sent us a thank you note, and only two have thanked me when a gift or courtesy was delivered in person during my recent visit–but even they have never made an effort to provide the small courtesy of a thank you without physical presence. But then, neither have my children or my sister. What a family I come from and what children I have raised! It is almost embarrassing to be related to them at all.

Although my husband thinks I may be a little premature, I have decided to change my will so that, in the event my death precedes his, not a single token will be endowed to any member of my biological family. None of them deserve it. None of them would consider the intrinsic value of a bauble for the non-financial value I have placed on it. None of them would understand in the slightest why I have put any value on such a trifle. None of them are the type of people I consider worthy of inheriting an iota from a clearly eccentric relative. Not any more, anyway. My Family, on the other hand, will appreciate even the smallest token of what I have to give–mostly because they know and understand me so well. To them, my eccentricities are lovable–or at least tolerable–characteristics. They love me for who and what I am and are willing to accept my flaws as well as my charms. That is why to me they are Family as well as friends. The best part is that they understand my lack of phone usage, which I wrote about in a previous post. (sigh)

Here is the important part: I am more than the sum of my parts. I am stronger than my biological family take me for. I may not have achieved all that I set out to do; I may not have been whatever mythical person my biological family thought I should be; I may have not become the person aimed to be when I was much younger. But I like most of the elements that comprise me, and I continue to try to improve those things I do not like about myself. I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I love people for who they are, not for what they are or what they have or what they can do for me. Those people who have hurt me in the past are no less deserving of love than the people who have helped me in the past. There is little enough love in the world, and I will continue to love my family because they are my family, even though they have shunned me as effectively as a fundamentalist religious clan blots out the existence of an excommunicate. However, I will no longer make any effort to communicate with family who clearly wishes to not communicate with me. They are in the past, and there is nothing more that I can do to open lines of communication–especially since I am not the one who closed them.

And I am surprisingly quite comfortable with that.

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