Thursday, April 26, 2007

Family matters--or not

An old friend emailed and asked me if family was important. She's been having yet another go-round with her sisters and is feeling left out. Sometimes her sisters close ranks and gossip about her, passing around stories that have just a small poppy seed of truth that blossom into much more, thus alienating her from the rest of her family--and especially from her nieces and nephews.

Recently, one of her nephews stopped by and told her his sister moved back to Las Vegas. She had returned home to live but after three months found out it didn't work. She supposedly had cancer and full blown AIDS and had until October to live. When my friend contacted her, she said the tests weren't back and she's not going to worry until she is told differently. My friend thought she'd find her niece distraught and frightened; she wasn't.

My friend enjoys her nieces and nephews and she would enjoy her sisters if they weren't forever plotting and scheming and verbally abusing her. I've seen some of the abuse first hand. It's subtle but they certainly know how to set the barbed hooks deeply. Her sisters will make a comment that seems like a compliment on the surface; it's not. There's that sharp barbed hook barely hidden in the bait. My friend has learned not to rise to the bait but it means her sisters have less and less contact with her because she no longer gives them a burst of emotion to feed on.

This is what I told her:

I was thinking about family and how important--or not--they are just this morning. In fact, I was writing about it in the diary I keep on my laptop. I have a few of them, but that one sits on the bed on the side where I don't sleep and it's easy to pick up and type everything out, easier than writing it out long hand. Anyway, it all started with a shower yesterday afternoon. I was washing and suddenly the scent of Ivory soap came to mind. One of my aunts used it on her kids and I always associated the smell with her and with love. Dad told me one time that when her girls were little and came in from playing she'd wash their hands and faces in Ivory soap. Her bathroom always smelled of Ivory soap and I used to wash my hands very thoroughly when I went to the bathroom at her house so I could smell like her and her daughters. She never worked outside the home and I don't think she drove a car. She wore dresses all the time, simple cotton dresses--with sleeves for winter and without sleeves for spring, summer and warm days in fall. She didn't wear makeup or have fancy clothes and her house was always clean, but it was the kind of clean that was welcoming and homey, a place that smelled of love. When I was old enough to drive and had a problem I'd drive over to her house. No matter the time, she was always there for me and willing to listen to what I had to say.

Aunt Edith was family and she was important to me. But whether we like the people related to us or not, they have an affect on our lives and on making us who we are. In that sense the are important. In the sense that they should remain central in our lives and determine the course of the rest of our lives, no, I don't think they are important.

Family is a touchstone, a training ground, and a haven sometimes but family can also be a millstone dragging us down. There is the family you're born into and the family you make with the people who mean most to you, the ones who become your touchstone and your haven. In that sense, family is very important. Family is connection and we all need connections, just not the ones with which we come into the world.

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