Tag Archives: family

About Family

Not surprisingly, in a time of great stress and upheaval, my thoughts have turned again and again to family, and what it means to be “family.”

The practical help and moral support that has flowed in our direction during this latest crisis has been amazing.  Food, emails, phone calls, visits, shoulders to cry on, help with my kids.  My friend Caryl, in particular, has gone far above and beyond any call of duty, spending one afternoon driving my kids to see Daddy in the hospital and then taking them out to the bookstore and for ice cream afterwards, and spending yet another afternoon here visiting and helping with the kids while her husband fixed a broken shower faucet in our master bath.  The realization has come to me that she is one of those rare people who spends her life giving of herself – and not just to me and my family, because I see her doing it with others as well.  She’s amazing, as are quite a few other people in my life.

I commented on Facebook last night that “I have more people to whom I am grateful than I can shake a stick at.”  My friend Jodi responded with, “This is what being supported and loved feels like. No strings, no expectations – just your friends wanting to help and be there for you and Michael when you need it. The reason you have so many people who want to help is because of the kind of friend you are to all of us the rest of the time.”  She went on to say, “It’s what you’re supposed to get from your family. Since both of your ‘real’ families seem incapable, you create your own family of friends.”

In times of crisis throughout my adult life, it’s always been friends who have rallied around me, and not so much (or at all) the people related to me by blood or marriage.  I learned a long, long time ago that “family” isn’t a given, it’s a privilege, and sometimes you do have to make your own family because the ones you’re dealt by birth or marriage just don’t live up to the hype.

A few months ago I was out to dinner with a couple of friends and Jodi (who is extremely wise, who is part of a close-knit family herself, and has a thing or two to say about family), was talking about when her brother got married, and how people would ask her “Do you like his new wife?”  I wish I could remember her exact words because she expressed it all so eloquently and succinctly, but what she said was something to the effect of, “That question is really beside the point, isn’t it?  That’s who my brother has chosen to spend his life with, and her job is to make him happy and make a good life with him.  If we [meaning Jodi and the rest of the extended family] hope to remain on good terms with them and be welcomed into their home and the family they create, then we better embrace her.  It’s not about us, it’s about them.”  This really, really struck a chord with me, and has stuck in my craw ever since.  This is not what has happened with my own in-laws, and that is at the heart of a chasm between us that is so wide and deep at this point that it’s not likely it will ever be bridged.

I think some people – consciously or unconsciously – just never expect their offspring (or siblings, as the case may be) to actually go forth in the world and make a life for themselves in which the family of origin is no longer primary.  When someone grows up and gets married and has children, and takes that marriage very seriously and invests all kinds of blood, sweat, and tears into it to make it something solid and true – that rightfully becomes primary.  When there is an inability or unwillingness on the part of the family of origin to accept that, nothing good can come of it.

I don’t think Michael’s immediate family (with the exception of his mom, who passed away five years ago) ever expected to become secondary, to have their place in Michael’s life usurped by a wife.  I look at our wedding pictures, and everyone is all smiles and hugs, and it looks like we are on the brink of something wonderful with the full support and blessings of everyone present . . . but I wonder now if they just didn’t expect it to stick, or if they expected that I, the wife and mother to Michael’s future children, would remain secondary.  I’ve never been embraced as a full-fledged member of their family, complete with all the rights to air grievances that a real family member would have.  They’ve never tried to get to know me.  Michael and I have been married for almost ten years now, and they’ve never asked about my family, where I come from.  They don’t even know my middle name or when my birthday is.

When I think about it from a logical standpoint, I know that I shouldn’t take it personally.  It’s probably not me they can’t accept, it’s just the role I’ve filled in Michael’s life.  However, it all has gotten very personal and very nasty over the last couple of years.  People’s essence tends to be stripped clean when the chips are down, and in the months following Michael’s cancer diagnosis, a lot of unsavory things were exposed about people – people you assume will be there in a selfless and meaningful way when it really matters, but who, in the end, aren’t.

So this is why my extended family is comprised of people like Jodi, and Caryl, and Lisa, and Jen, and Karyn, and Karen – none of them related to me in a conventional way.

At the hospital the other day when that social worker took me into the little conference room and let me cry my eyes out, and she asked me about my family, I told her, “I don’t have family, we’re estranged.”  I meant my own birth family and my in-laws.  She said, “I’m estranged from my family, too, don’t worry about it.”  Then she said, “You go where the love is, and you leave the rest.  Life’s too short.”

Amen.

Rampage

Michael is in the hospital again.  I’ve lost count of how many times he’s been in the hospital over the last two years.  Twice it was for scheduled surgeries relating to his cancer.  All the other times have been via the emergency room.  The last time was back in December, while the kids were on winter break.  Abdominal pain that grew worse and worse, two trips to the emergency room in one day, and finally a CT scan revealed an obstruction, and Michael was admitted and spent a couple days in the hospital while they attempted to clear the obstruction by non-surgical means.

And here we are again.  The familiar pain started up late yesterday afternoon, and it became clear pretty quickly that the plans we had for the evening would have to be canceled.  The pain grew worse and worse until finally he drove himself to the ER at 2:00 a.m.  Kevin had gone to a friend’s for a sleepover, so I couldn’t leave the other kids.  That, too – Michael driving himself to the ER, either that or my dropping him off there and coming home – has become routine.  At about 7:30 this morning, they did a CT scan and discovered another obstruction, and so now he’s been admitted and they will again attempt to clear the obstruction through non-surgical means.  I don’t know how long he will be in the hospital.  I imagine a day or two.

And here I sit, stewing in anger.  Anger at cancer for doing this to my husband, to my family.  Yes, the cancer is gone, but this is one of the many scars it’s left: adhesions from the surgery that removed the cancer.  Lest we ever get comfortable and begin to see cancer as a distant nightmare, these things rear their heads to remind us that cancer is never really completely gone.  It fucks with you forever.  There are physical scars and emotional ones, and they never go away, even if cancer itself is gone forever (and who knows if it is gone forever of just taking a little respite?).

I’m angry at Michael’s family for failing so utterly in their capacity to put aside their own selfish feelings and agendas and really be there for us during what has been such a horrific crisis over the last two+ years.  There, I said it.  I’ve never touched directly on the situation with his family publicly, but I’m tired of being respectfully quiet about it, of taking the high road.  They don’t even know what we’ve gone through – yes, WE – because a wall has been constructed as a means of self-preservation for our family.  I’ve been here!  I’ve experienced all the horrors of cancer and the aftermath – as well as ten years’ worth of other marital ups and downs – alongside Michael.  I’ve shown my devotion, my trueness, but I am dismissed as someone “evil,” someone who has “brainwashed” Michael.  I am angry, so angry, that we’ve had to go through this alone, without appropriate support, because the people who should be here for us cannot see beyond themselves.

I’m angry at all the people who throw around prayer requests like candy on Facebook and everywhere else, who believe there is some merciful god out there who takes a personal interest in anyone’s life.  Really?  REALLY???  Come on, people!

My kids are upset that Daddy is gone again.  They are beginning to get used to these incidents.  I know that I am supposed to be strong and stoic through this, but I’m having a really difficult time grasping any strong or stoic part of myself.  I’m tired, and so angry.

Dysfunction

The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines forgive as “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender).”

Can there be real forgiveness on the part of the offended in the absence of remorse or regret on the part of the offender?  This is a fundamental question I struggle with in the context of certain relationships.

How can there be forgiveness – or trust for that matter – if someone behaves in a manner that causes very real hurt, stress, and anger, but that person refuses or is incapable of seeing and acknowledging that their behavior negatively impacts someone else?  If there is no remorse, then there is also no assurance that the offender will not continue to behave obnoxiously, insensitively, rudely, and hurtfully.  How does one move on from there?

There is no choice but to accept the person as they are, with no expectation that they will change to suit you.  This means accepting that they are unwilling and/or unable to see past their own feelings, and this will very likely result in continued behavior that is offensive and hurtful to the people around them.

With every relationship, there must be a cost-benefit analysis.  Does this relationship benefit me more than it harms me?  Does it enrich my life more than it costs me?  Does it bring me more positivity than negativity?

We are all, as adults with all of our faculties intact, responsible for our own happiness.  Part of being responsible for our own happiness is choosing to involve ourselves in healthy relationships that are based on mutual respect, honesty, straightforward dealing, trust, kindness, and mutual valuing of one another’s personhood and feelings.  Involving ourselves in relationships that don’t have those elements is akin to choosing to be victims.

I refuse to be a victim.