I went to my uncle’s memorial service on Saturday, what would have been his 53rd birthday.
I felt a bit hypocritical being there, as I’d never even met the man, but I went as my father’s representative, and to lend whatever moral support my aunts needed.
Jan, his 25 year partner and girlfriend, met folks at the entrance of the church. She was a lovely, petite, friendly lady that I couldn’t help but like instantly.
At one point in the service, Jan sang a song entitled “Can You Reach My Friend?” which, given my knowledge of Jerry and his relationship with Jan, really touched me deeply. Jan knew that she couldn’t reach Jerry — that’s why she left him after so many years. And that’s pretty much what this song was about.
I could have done without the drama from all three of the aunts that were there.
Wanda and Peggy shared a mother with Jerry, and Kay Ann shared a father with him. None of them had been in contact with Jerry for longer than any of them could remember. As Jan told me, my father was the only one who ever had time for Jerry and, of course, he’s locked up in a state prison and couldn’t attend the service.
Peggy hugged Jan and cried and cried and cried, making her sorrow seem more weighty and deeper than anyone else’s.
Wanda criticized memories that were shared by a cousin, claiming that none of the memories were true. I thought at one point she was going to stand up and just holler “Bullshit!”
Kay Ann kept a respectful demeanor.
It really was a nice service — upbeat, loving, and inspirational.
On the hour-long drive home, my mind began to wander regarding my own familial relationships, or lack thereof.
My father is in prison and, while I don’t go and visit him nor do I write him much, I do accept his collect calls two or three times a month and talk to him. I’m all he has, as far as any contact with his family and I know that’s important to him.
I haven’t spoken with nor seen my mother in at least a decade, maybe more. The last time I saw her, she didn’t know who I was, didn’t recognize me. Not because of Alzheimer’s or any cognitive impairment, but because over the years our contact with each other was limited and she just didn’t recognize me. That had a powerful effect on me — that a woman would be unable to recognize her own offspring because of estrangement. My mother lives in Florida, somewhere around New Port Richey.
My older brother, Steve, is an angry, resentful person with a sense of entitlement because of the childhood that he (we) had. His was a household full of domestic violence for a number of years. His wife, son, and step-children suffered at his hand, because of the deep psychological scars inflicted on him in his youth, and because he just couldn’t let go of his anger and resentment.
My half-sister, Sue, is 10 years my junior, married with (I think) three sons — two sons for sure. The oldest was a toddler when I last visited with my sister and her family — he is now old enough to drive.
My half-brother, Kevin, is 13 years younger than I am, and the last I knew he and his wife had separated (about 4 years ago). I don’t know how many kids he has, maybe two or three, but no less than two. I spoke with him four years ago when my older brother’s wife passed away, but neither Kevin nor Sue showed up at the funeral, the viewing, or even on the phone to express condolences to my brother.
The half-sibling relationship seems to equate to no-relationship for the two half-sibs. I tried for years to maintain contact with them, as well as with my mother and older brother, but I was the only one injecting any energy into maintaining those contacts. I wrestled and struggled with feelings of resentment, of negative self-worth, and rejection.
I knew my mother would be moving to Florida for retirement but, on her 60th birthday, I called her to wish her a happy birthday and found that she’d already gone to Florida. No good-bye, no “go to hell,” nothing. That was 13 years ago. And that was the day that I made the choice to protect myself and to stop beating myself up over a relationship with my mother that I had absolutely no control over. Good relationships need both parties to participate.
And so, on that hour-long drive home Saturday evening, I contemplated my family and the years of dysfunction and estrangement that we have become so accustomed to and come to accept as part of our everyday lives.
I contemplated my life to this point, and the possibilities of my own demise and decided that, with only one exception, I have no regrets in my life.
The mistakes I have made are lessons that life hands us and it is up to us to decide whether we’re going to learn from those mistakes, or re-live them over and over. I’d like to think that I’ve learned from mine and that those mistakes, no matter how big or small, have helped me to become the person that I am today. (Incidentally, this is why I think cloning is such a stupid idea — we can make someone who LOOKS like the person we’ve lost but, without those life experiences, they’ll never BE the person we lost.)
The one exception? The one regret?
That I was unable to live up to whatever standard it was that my mother had for me that would make her proud of me, or want to be part of my life.
I don’t regret the choice to remain estranged, because I know, in my heart, that I did everything I could and, like the song by Bonnie Raitt says, “I can’t make [her] love me if [she] don’t.” All I can do it try to be a good mother to my own offspring, and to keep all the doors open, no matter how hard they may try to slam them.
I sometimes feel sad that my mother never knew my kids, and most likely doesn’t know (nor seem to care) how many great-grandchildren she has. I often wonder if she’s lonely, living down there alone. I suppose a part of me hopes that she is.
Lisa once asked me what I would do if my mother just suddenly showed up on my doorstep. After some thought, I told her that I would just slowly close the door — not slam it in her face, just slowly close it.
I can’t leave that door open for any more of the hurt that it took me a lifetime to overcome.
Sometimes I think about her, wondering what she’s doing. Sometimes I wonder how her health is. Sometimes I wonder if she’s still alive.
And sometimes I just cry.