***this was written on Facebook in December of last year, the 15th to be exact. It’s another thing that I’ll add to be able to my list of issues that make being a substantive and more permanent soul very difficult***

Unfortunately, this note deals with a hard issue at a time when the feelings of the time of year should make it the opposite. Family, it’s kind of difficult to explain without having lived it. There is always more than enough blame to go around, and always not enough time to make up for the things we lose.

Now, I don’t want to share something cliché, but everyone’s family is different. No two the same, and for good reason. Some families have a large amount of dysfunction, some have a little. Some families are tight-knit, and others are strangers. I would like to share about mine for a bit.

A day or so ago, (14 Dec 2009) my paternal grandmother passed away. She was 87 or 88 years old. I never met her, and the same with my paternal grandfather also. He passed away a handful of years ago. Up until the last 6 years or so, my father hadn’t seen them in over 35 years. I think the same goes for my dad’s sister, whom I am not really sure exists. My maternal grandfather died before I was born, and my maternal grandmother died when I was I believe 7. Our family hasn’t been very good about connecting with one another. During my adult life, two of my uncles (mother’s brothers) died, and I had not seen either of them since before I was 9 years old. And my mother also had not seen them in decades. Recently, for me and my relationships, I have had years of no contact with my mother, my father, and at the moment my brother. I also have had my closest extended relatives, my aunt and her sons, at arms length for the better part of 17 years. She passed away last August. I hadn’t seen her since before we moved into this century.

Generational curses aside, our family has no continuity, our family doesn’t know how to stay connected with one another. In many ways, we don’t know how to be connected in any sort of normal way with anyone. It over the last 20 years has really bothered me, like an itch inside my heart slowly scarring over so I might no longer feel the ache from losing another friend, having another day without contact from my family. In my own life, I never knew how to have a long term relationship. The friends that I chose to treat like my family often are people I barely have contact with now. Even the people that are the closest to me will tell you that it’s hard to know me, hard to survive with me around them. Up until recently, I haven’t had an honest-to-goodness friend that has lasted beyond the 10 years and counting barrier. 10 years of knowing and being known, without some major distance and major destruction of our relationship. As long as I’m not very close, the relationships can stay cursory, and mostly non-threatened by the passage of time.

But with those that get close, those that are even the remotest bit civil with me now, there had to be years of distance to get to a point where they might talk or chat or keep up fundamental discussions with me. I often wonder what is wrong with the wiring in my family to make us all impossible to stay close to, but it seems that everyone that is family has the same problem. I always have attributed it to my very polarising and out there behaviour, but when my father’s mother passed away, something clicked…

Neither my father nor mother had relationships with their siblings after they could get out of the house. They never had deep lasting friendships or relationships unless they were work related for much of my early years. Moving around a bit is what I attributed that to, but I see it’s more. I think there is a fundamental lack of understanding or ability in my family to connect. Damaged and broken people that cannot get close for fear of whatever, so you cope, adapt, and do the best that you can.

For me, someone who self-admittedly has a large heart and likes to use it to help others, I found that I could be temporarily in someone’s life long enough for God to impact them, and then others who knew better how to care for someone in the long haul would take over. It’s kind of like a story I like to tell about my first roommate: Steve Wittenmyer. He got involved with IV at FSU because he was my roommate, but after the initial connection… all of you wonderful people in the chapter took up the slack and loved him and made him a part of our group. He and I didn’t connect so well, and he even moved out of our room 2nd semester when there was an opening. He’s a great guy, one of whom we reconnected just recently via FB, but other people are the ones he fondly thinks of from FSU.

It’s just a tough feeling inside my gut when I look at the reality of the lives that I was able to touch, impact, and move on from. The people that fondly, really fondly, remember me are the ones that I was there for a moment in time, and then disappeared. I was very very good at that, and to a certain extent, I guess I still am. It really isn’t what I may have wanted for my life, but the relationships that I laboured over and tried and failed and tried again, are all almost like rubble strewn along the roadside as i travel my life. I have the fondest remembrances and feelings toward many friends, but I haven’t really had a close friend that made it a decade. I know people who have had the same friends since they were in the 1st grade. I cannot fathom that. I still have mementos from friends and people I have connected with that go back 25 years… ones that I no longer even know if they’re alive, because it’s all I have left of a relationship that once was. Once was… ouch.

And family, they are either the ones you choose, or the ones you are born with, depending upon the way you look at things. The ones I was born with, well they’ve taken their bumps and bruises. God willing the relationships with my mother and father that have had decades long absences and conflicts and whatnot might be repaired someday. I have spent the last 7 years or so making up for the previous decade of disconnection with my father. It’s been about the same amount with my mother as well. My brother and I were getting so much closer when things fell apart, and now I haven’t actually heard from him voluntarily in almost 3 years. He didn’t even respond to any contact when my mother’s life was in danger earlier this year when she grew gravely ill.

That’s how damaged our family gets. We all rub off on each other and somehow still can’t quite get to the point where we can just be family. Everything is really hard work, and often I have this lingering feeling that whatever has been wrong has all been on my shoulders. Yet, looking back at the amount of disconnectedness my mother had with her family and my father with his… I wonder if there just hasn’t been anyone in our family that actually knows how to have a disagreement or problems without them destroying the bonds of family that we are supposed to have. I wonder if anyone has the requisite knowledge of how to have a real relationship.

Having looked at this from emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and psychological points of view and getting advice and observations from people who actually know what they’re talking about… well, let’s just say there are many factors why we’re who we are right now. But, everyday now, it’s a choice rather a sentence to be carried out. My father learned that after decades of not seeing his mother and father. I learned that after being away from my family for the better part of 12 years. My cancer may have helped me to learn that quicker than my parents. Yet, I hopefully still am learning. The loss of that connection, the loss of those wonderful people, even for a moment is devastating to someone if they really look at the time missed, and the relationship absent. I’m pretty sure everyone has someone in their life that they are estranged from… for me it’s the ones I’m not estranged from that are the rarity. I am hoping to change a little of that.

I used to quote that “People are a gift from God. Sometimes you get them for a mere moment, others for a lifetime.” But, I would like to add something after reflecting about the fact that my brother and I have missed a connection with a generation twice removed from us and can never get it back…. I would add this to it: “But you should treat that gift like you’re going to have them for a lifetime, because you never know.”

During this time of the year, cherish those that you call family. The ones you chose or chose you, and the ones that you were born into. No matter how bad, or good, they still are the one thing that lasts forever in our worlds. People, God, and God’s Word. And, if you believe like me, that our loved ones are gifts from God, then we’re dealing with eternity every day.

My father is now dealing with the fact that he lost his mother, and unfortunately it just wasn’t that big of a deal because he’s really only had 7 years to know her, and the last 3 or so she’s been suffering from dementia. It breaks my heart, because there’s no way you can get that back, ever. So, I call my dad every other day if I can… I have so much lost time to make up for. I hug my mom, several times a day to make up for the years of not having any, and now that she’s in Uganda… well you understand it’s hard to hug over a computer.

I never really met my grandparents. At times I’ve barely had contact with my family. All the friends I knew in high school are acquaintances or gone. Every friend from college spent several years without contact. Even since I’ve moved to where I live now, there are people I dearly love that I have at times grown distant from, just because I didn’t want to lose them too. I’m trying to be better… I hope and pray I do someday. I don’t want to dwell on the blame, I just want it to be better tomorrow, and the next day.

Love on yours, and I’ll keep learning how to love on mine.

Peace

Rest in Peace Mary E. Burbank, I wish I had known you. I pray that I know your son intimately someday, and that he knows the Son someday too.

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