Whether we want to be or not, we are all part of a family. Whether that family embraces us, rejects us, or is indifferent to us, we are a part of it, like it or not. If that family is loving or harsh, heartening or spiteful, they are related to us, regardless of our wishes.
We all come from somewhere, and while that may be a place, in the geographic sense, it is in in fact far more than that. We all come from a crucible fraught with people, places, and experiences that permeate the fabric of our lives for the entirety of our lives. This occurs whether we want it to or not.
Resistance it futile. Is it? Really?
I’m not certain, but what I am certain of is that the crucible in which we are mixed, the family and the places and the people who shape us, while they are significant, vital even to who we may become, they hold nothing to bear on the power of our choices.
We kinda-but-not-really-buried my Grandmother today. Gram was in her late 80’s and had not been well for some time. The last few visits I shared with her were pleasant in the manner of, “here’s a nice young man doting on me,” but there was little of the fire and energy that I always expected from her. She was a good lady and I will miss her tremendously. The hope had been to bury her in the plot that her mother and father had shared since they passed. Gram told everyone involved that, after she died, she wanted to be with her parents. Her wishes were documented--she didn’t want to be alone in the end and in the end, none of us wanted her to be alone either. We all gathered to make that happen for her, but it didn’t happen.
At the risk of airing my own personal dirty laundry, which is something that this space has never been about for me, there was a party in the family who apparently had a legal right to an opinion, and he disagreed strongly with that plan. He exercised his right, vehemently and with dramatic effect, and my Grandmother was denied her wish for her final rest. His motives are still somewhat unclear to me, but his ridiculously selfish act is the culmination of a complicated and often tenuously confrontational relationship with the family as a whole.
The family that was able and willing to honor my grandmother gathered this morning. We held a service at the graveside and laid copious amounts of flowers on the graves of several generations of the family, including both my father and sister. It was the last time that any grouping of my family had gathered in that place and number since we buried my father, which felt like a very long time ago. My hair was different then to be sure.
In the end, the day was a surprisingly positive one, for a variety of reasons. Our little service, with my wife at the helm, was very nice. We shared stories about Gram and did our best to lean on one another. A father and son, who have been apart way too long had the chance to reconnect with one another. Their meeting was one of the most amazing family moments I have ever seen and I hope they make it work. I know I would give almost anything for the chance to embrace my father again. I placed flowers upon his grave, as did my sister, my mother, and my wife. It was the first time my wife had the chance to “meet” my father.
The remains of the day were very much like those of other days I’ve gathered with the family. But, the entire family was not there. There are those who remain so full of anger and misunderstanding that they refused to participate. They made a choice. They need to live with theirs as much as I will with mine. I think that, the choice, is a large part of what being part of a family really means. We are born into a family, but we have to choose to either embrace it or run away from it. I’m certain that most of us could make arguments either way, but in the end, if we are connected to our family, however we truly define it, it is because we have chosen to connect ourselves to them. We choose to be there.
My father died very young and as I grow older, our ages grow ever closer. I had a sister die as a child. The fragility and immediacy of life and death have always been themes in my life, whether I wanted them to be or not. As I now have children, for whom I would love to move the world, I have become very focused on them becoming persons who value not only themselves, but one another, and our family as a whole. My kids get along great when they aren’t tackling one another. Actually, sometimes those are the moments they are getting along at their best. But my hope is that as they grow older, they will choose to remain close and connected. I want family to matter to my children and I pray exhaustively that I will be able to teach them that one lesson, if nothing else. I can’t imagine a world where they would be so far apart from one another that they could not come together and face the challenges that my family has faced together this week. I can’t imagine being so angry with my own sister that we could not come together over the body of our parent.
This is perhaps more personal that I have written over the years, but I think what I want to say right now is that while life and circumstance might make a family, we are truly only connected to one another when we choose to be connected to one another. I have uncles, aunts, and cousins, all of whom I’ve had fun with at one time or another. But are we there when it matters? Do we choose to be present in the times when life is more awkward and difficult?
I know that the friends in my life are people who, over the years, I’ve chosen to be with. They are people with whom I’ve grown and fought and become the man I am now. They are a small group who do not ask for, nor do they require, an explanation of my quirks or occasional idiocy. (For the most part)
The family in my life and I imagine, in the lives of most people, is truly far more complicated. We are all thrust together by genetic circumstances, and we either like one another or we don’t. We interact well or we don’t, but, we have no choice in that we are family. One way or another there is a forever in our makeup as a family that is irrefutable, and, when it’s good, it’s great. When it becomes an obligation or something that “used to matter,” it’s a problem, but only if that is someone’s choice, sad as it may seem.
In my family, which gathered this weekend to almost but not really bury my grandmother, there was a time when we all liked one another and enjoyed being together. That changed, for some, and then it changed again, for others. A father and son talked this this weekend--that mattered a lot to me. Choices will be made in the coming days that will show if that will have been a fleeting moment or a significant moment in the life of both men.
I wrote earlier that I have uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and I do, and I should take more time and energy to connect with all of them. I should and hope that I will and that it will matter. Gram was always the center of this side of the family, but we don’t have her anymore, so any relationship we have as a family going forward will be one that we choose to have. Or not have.
Family is family. I miss my father and missed the chance to know my oldest sister. I miss my grandmother too. She was a real strong lady. Her family came first all the time. Even when they were difficult and the choices were painful, she chose family. I hope I live to be the grandparent she was for me.
Every time. Every single time. She chose family.
While it may not be a choice to be a family, it very much feels like it is a choice to stay a family. We’re hoping to stay.
Aloha au iā 'oe, Grandma. A hui hou... E ho'omaha me ka maluhia. In Hawaiian, that translates to “I love you, Grandma, until we meet again, rest in peace.”