As an introvert who gets overwhelmed by too much activity and gabbing, it can be difficult to keep tabs on all of my loved ones. It’s not that I don’t want to, but my energy and patience fail me. It feels self-protective to let calls go to voicemail so I can finish work or get to bed earlier. I give myself breathing space by saying no to some invitations. I know in most cases those are healthy boundaries, but I still feel as if I’m doing something slightly wrong.
Are you my family?
Last weekend I experienced a huge dose of family togetherness. We were gathering to celebrate the lives of my mother, who passed away last summer, and her brother who passed away in February.
My sister, who’d cared for my mother in her final year, passed the organizing of this memorializing weekend on to me. It was my turn to take care of things (nothing compared to the care my sister and her husband provided for Mom). I had Facebook, email and text messages zinging back and forth between five cousins, my sister and myself. I couldn’t ignore them. I didn’t want to. I was connecting with mystery people who shared the same blood and lineage.
My kids and I drove from Minneapolis to Lansing, Michigan to meet with everyone.
As we slowly arrived at the designated arch in Brookside Cemetery, it was a tad awkward, everyone peering into cars to see if the inhabitants looked like family members, like ourselves. Once out of our cars, we introduced ourselves over family headstones and worked to etch each other’s faces and voices in our memories.
I visited with first cousins I barely knew. Apparently, arm’s-length relationships run in my family, because none of my cousins knew each other that well. One pair of siblings barely kept in contact and a couple of cousins had strained relationships with their parents.
Over the weekend we shared meals, stories, photos and tears as we all did our best to create closeness and connection with people who had been strangers the majority of our lives.
My mother was the baby of her family. She was at least sixteen years younger than her oldest sibling, therefore my cousins had fifteen to twenty years on my sister and me. It felt like I was surrounded by wise elders. My cousins are active vibrant people, by no means old or slowing down. They are artists, master skiers, hockey players, advertising execs, business owners and exquisite homemakers. Introverts and extroverts, but mostly extroverts. These are people I can learn from. They are just enough ahead of me to have insight and wisdom I haven’t uncovered yet. They’re fascinating and fun too.
They filled in a lot of the gaps regarding our family history. I especially enjoyed learning about my Uncle Tom, whom I’d never met. He did at least three tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He could live in the wild for months at a time. He was a survivalist. My cousin, Eric, teared up talking about Tom. They’d had a special bond as uncle and nephew. Eric said Tom was full of life and so much fun. He died of a heart attack at 60.
My grandparents had owned a hardware store in my mom’s hometown. My cousins described it as a small department store. Their eyes sparkled as they talked about visiting the toy section on the upper floor. Sigh… I wish I could have seen that.
I watched as two of my cousins (brother and sister) stood apart from each other at the graveside ceremony for their father’s ashes. I felt lonely for both. They each shed tears with no support from the other.
The cocoon of family
I was truly sad to leave the temporary cocoon of this lovely family gathering. I think the time together was fulfilling and healing for all of us.
As I left, I vowed to up my level of responsiveness and connection with the dear ones in my world. That includes my readers and clients. I’ve made more of an effort lately. It’s been easier to do because I’m not in an intimate relationship now. My cousin even made a post-weekend comment that it’s easier to be close to your children when you are not trying to keep a spouse happy. Hmmm. That really made me pause. I think I’ll idealistically keep looking for the kind of partner who expands my energy and encourages close hugs and consistent connecting with loved ones.
Do you feel like you are responsive and there for your people? How do you manage it energetically? Could you improve?
**It’s summer and writing time is squeezed between hanging out with my kids, road trips and star-gazing. My work schedule becomes unstructured and casual. I like it, most of the time. I hope you accept my shorter and possibly fewer posts over the next two months.