This time of year families gather together. For many years, I traveled to Montana, first with my mom, dad and brother to stay with my grandmothers. Then, as an adult, I flew up to Montana from San Diego to be with my mom and then, after she died, I flew to Montana to spend Christmas with my aunts. 

There was a period in there when I broke off with my family — I made some choices I had every right to make, but my mom disowned me, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed. I can’t say the estrangement was a bad thing or a bad time. I now believe it was necessary. In those years I belonged to a new family, this family was in Zürich, and for a few years I flew “home” to Zürich for Christmas. I look on that time as one of the sweetest and magical of my life. 

My mom and I attempted to make amends after one of my cousins died suddenly of a brain tumor, and my mom realized it could have been me. From that came one of the three times she ever called me on the phone (it was my job to call her) and asked me to come “home” for Christmas. I did. It turned out to be the last Christmas of her life. It was a strange, joyless Christmas for both of us. We didn’t like each other. I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, and I had never found anything in common with her, feeling only a sense of duty and the wish for love. My aunt Dickie called me up while I was visiting my mom and attempted a heart-to-heart about my mom’s drinking. But, as my aunt Dickie didn’t want to bad-mouth her sister, and this is the cowboy American west where some things were just not spoken of directly by the older generation, I didn’t get the point. I didn’t even get it when my mom almost crashed the car into a curb… I would learn the truth three months later when a scan of my mom’s brain revealed brain lesions from alcoholism.

The years of Christmas with my aunts were wonderful, fun, warm, friendly, loving, and I savored those times knowing they would not last forever. All of my aunts are gone now and my reflection in the mirror is a collage containing features and expressions of all those people. Interestingly, only the bird finger on my right hand resembles anything about my mom. Go figure.

I think there’s a point in most of our lives — especially those of us who don’t have kids — when we’re the sole survivors. I don’t mind. I loved my family and I miss them, but I’ve understood for a while that we all stand on a curb watching the passing parade. It’s an interesting parade because though we stand and watch, we are also in it, moving at different rates of speed toward the moment when we turn a corner and are no more. 

Ultimately, I found my home in a place on the map my family only passed through. I could have come sooner, but I guess I wasn’t ready or didn’t realize what “home” was. I love Montana, but the winter nights are very long and I like sunshine. I ended up in exactly the right place for me. I began to get an idea about 10 years ago and a search that began in 2002 for a job in Wyoming became a search for home in a small town in Colorado where I could live on the rather frugal income I’d have when I retired. I also wanted mountains, to live at a high elevation, to have snow and sunshine. 

I found it.

And, family, too. Family-less, the blank spaces in my life have been filled by those to whom I have an affinity and they to me. Some are close, some are more distant, but the heart-ties are the same or even more wholesome, cleaner, without some of the loaded expectations we have of family. 

25 years ago I was given a collection of Rumi’s poems by a woman who was a very precious friend and soulmate, both she and her husband. I felt she was my older sister, and in the passage of time, her husband — who was born the same year as my dad — offered me affection and support very like my dad would have if he had been alive. In that collection of poems, I read this one and decided to use it as instructions for finding the right direction.

Anyone who genuinely and constantly with both hands
looks for something, will find it.
Though you are lame and bent over, keep moving toward [it]. With speech, with silence, with sniffing about, stay on the track.
Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.

13 thoughts on “Family…

  1. A good reminder, Martha, that family is what we make. Whether by birth or by choice. I’m glad to hear you have found the one that works for you. 🙂

  2. Ultimately, no matter how terrifying the idea is, we will ALL be sole survivors — or previously deceased. I keep trying to wrap my brain around it, but it isn’t happening. So I’m just moving along, being us, being me, hoping somehow, everything will work out as it should, whatever that means.

  3. Oh, man, paragraph three is heartbreaking, especially “We didn’t like each other. I wasn’t the daughter she wanted”.

    As my kids age, I occasionally see behaviors or aspects of their personality that I don’t like and that immediately send me into paroxysms of guilt, thinking “what on earth did I do or fail to do that makes them think that’s acceptable?” I even, unfortunately, worry (occasionally) that I may end up not liking my kids very much.

    I have to remind myself that such a fate is entirely avoidable; all I have to do is acknowledge that I’m judging them by my own stringent and often unfair standards rather than accepting them on their own merits. I’m sad your mom couldn’t learn that lesson, but I’m proud of you for not holding it against her and for finding your own peace and place.

    • I hate my mom and there’s plenty I hold against her, but my feelings about her are not in the least important. She couldn’t help being her any more than I could be someone else. The best thing is that I didn’t know everything about her when I lived with her or in all the years I tried to satisfy her. When I learned the truth, she was dead and gone. Because of her I’m a strong, independent person with a sense of humor. And I was lucky in the guy who was my father and the women who were my grandmas and my aunts — on both sides. I learned from them that our parents are not necessarily the only adults who love us and to whom we can turn.

      More important, I learned that just because a person is related to us by blood — and maybe even a close relation — doesn’t mean we automatically like or even love them. Your point about accepting your kids on their own merits is EXACTLY right.

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