Monday, July 23rd, was my father’s funeral. I dreaded the thought of going back home to Pennsylvania for several reasons. All of which, apparently, were just inside my own little brain. I’d had almost an entire week to think about family and friends that would be there at dad’s services. It saddened my (already) soft and emotional heart to realize that a lot of these people I had not seen since February 1992 when Mom passed away. 20 years and 5 months is a long time to lose touch with someone. I know (now) that Dad kept them abreast of how I was doing and how the kids were … but its just not the same as keeping in touch with people yourself.
When you have a family unit – and it doesn’t matter who is part of that family unit or how it came to be a family unit – those are strong bonds that are hard to sever. There are shared lives, experiences, joys and sorrows, achievements, setbacks – all of life’s ups and downs that it throws at you. Things happen, and members of your family unit pass away, and the unit shrinks. There are times when members of that family unit have issues with each other and cease contact, shrinking the family unit even further. “Well its okay if I don’t talk to so and so … I’ll still hear about them from so and so,” and so we go on with whatever imagined or real slight caused the rift and don’t think about the consequences.
However, no matter how quickly afterwards or how far into the future it may be, there comes a time when that rift and the family unit is brought to the forefront of your mind and requires your complete attention. If you have a heart of stone or completely alienate yourself from the family unit all together, you may be able to deal with situations unscathed. If you are like me however, and have an emotional and soft-hearted soul, it tears you apart inside. You begin to remember how things “used” to be … no, you don’t forget the bad times either, but they are so far removed and completely unimportant anymore that it just seems silly to keep on the way that you have been.
I have had a week of emotional and mental upheaval – dealing with things I didn’t want to have to deal with, avoiding emotions until I couldn’t avoid them any longer, terrified that my attempts at a reconciliation would be rejected (and were, initially) but the one thing that terrified me more than anything else at all – was losing what is my family unit. Yes I have my own family – my husband and my children – we are our own family unit. I do not want to lose the family unit I had growing up, the people that have been a part of my life for the past 45 years. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of the family, family members twice removed and so far down the family tree in connection it gets confusing – but still, an integral part of MY family unit. I am bound and determined to hold tight and do whatever I need to in order to keep what is remaining of my family unit together.
I’ve been distanced by miles and by words with several family members – and its always bothered me, but just to an extent, because when I was feeling particularly down about the situation and emotional, I knew I could always call Dad and he’d have the skinny on what was going on with everyone and keep me up to date on how everyone was doing. He was estranged from his brother for the past 30 years due to circumstances from when their parents passed away within 6 weeks of each other. It was a devastating loss to our entire family losing the ‘glue’ that kept us all together and even though Dad was a proud man and would never admit it – I know he missed his baby brother at times. You cannot spend 34 years of your life with someone and then just cut them out without feeling the loss. When I would tell him that I’d spoken with his brother, there was always a little “humpf” and then a quiet, “How is he?” and a mumbled “not that I care or anything” afterwards … and he would listen as I would tell him how he was doing and what he was up to, and then he’d change the subject and we wouldn’t speak of it again.
Maybe I’m wired differently because of the epilepsy that I suffered as a child and a young adult has erased large chunks of my past … I do not “remember” events and places as a normal person would – something has to jog that memory from the recesses of my mind in order for me to be able to remember. There are those precious few memories that I have been able to hang onto from the past and I guard them as though they are gold. My brother gave an absolutely beautiful memorial “So This Is Your Life” tribute to my father yesterday – and hearing him speak about my father with such love, and remembering all of those wonderful times we spent together as a family … and then later the addition of our baby sister into our family unit somehow making everything complete – was really touching. I will forever be in my brother’s debt for reawakening those long-lost memories that I can lock into my guarded vault and hold tight to as well once more.
My mother asked one thing of me when she passed – and one thing alone. She had written a letter to each of us children after her heart attack and had instructed dad not to give them to us until she passed, and I don’t think even he knew what she had written to each of us. My mother asked me to keep our family together. To come home for holidays and visits, and to keep our family intact. I failed miserably. At the age of 25 however, I was still lost and trying to find my place in the world and struggling with just having to be a responsible adult and all that comes with it. I still have my letter.
Now my father is gone. We are alone, us three children, and it hurts. We are all dealing with various degrees of that lost feeling and I feel as though with my being the eldest of us three, that it is up to me to set an example for my brother and sister, and to be the strong one. I don’t give a shit about the past. I refuse to allow things done and/or said in the past to cloud our future. We are family, we need each other – maybe not in the same degree as we may have needed each other when we were younger as we each have our own spouses and children – but we need each other as part of OUR family unit, the one that came from the two people who raised us with love and caring and compassion. From the two people who taught us right from wrong, gave us wings to fly and dusted us off and picked us back up when we fell and failed miserably. From the two people who always guided us with their own experiences and wisdom of a life well lived – whether we actually listened and took that advice or not.
So that is my promise to MY family unit – to be there for them in any way that I can. Will I go home every year for Christmas? I can’t say that I will. Will I call on holidays and birthdays and anniversaries? Yes. Will I send cards and emails to tell those that I love and tell them that I’m thinking of them for no special reason but to say I love you? Yes. Will I learn how to Skype so that I can talk to my family face-to-face? Yes.
Family is a celebration of life, of shared experiences and something that everyone should have in their lives. They complete you. Whether you like it or not, each and every member of your family had an influence on you – whether it be the way that you dress, speak, act, think – what YOU are today had its foundation in your FAMILY. Never take that for granted. The day will come when you no longer have it, and it is too late then for regrets and wishful thinking.
Call your family if you are separated by miles, stop in and pay them a visit. Your mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews – all of them – and tell them that you love them. Reconnect with them. Life is too short to live in the shadow of regret and stubbornness. Take that step and pick up the phone. You may not be able to fix the situation with one phone call, but you can let the other person know that you still care and you want to try. You never know, the other person could be feeling the exact same way and doesn’t know how to say they are sorry as well.
If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? and if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I have everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear. Now we know only a little, even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear.
It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.
There are three things that will endure — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13
Love means forgiving and letting go and starting anew.