After: the Pull of Family, Redefined

Circa 1960 - Dean, Scott, Betsy, BruceJust before flying to Washington DC for the burial, I laughed when my son and I passed through the New Age vortex that is City of Mt. Shasta on our drive with his belongings back to college. “Amorandre’a” promised “evolutionary transformation sessions and workshops transforming the Body Mind to the level of the Atom.”

I’m remembering the “stick and ball” model of a testosterone molecule that my son had to create in 7th grade. The atoms (balls) of the model had to be connected with bonds (toothpicks) that shaped them into the angles dictated by nature: straight lines, angles and tetrahedrals. The shapes aren’t created by logic; the atoms are propelled and repelled into relationship with one another.

In the absence of Mom and Dad, we are forming new bonds across family units, relationships that seem to have an agency of their own.

After Dad died, one of the big questions that seemed to float in space before me was, “Who is my family now?” The phrase, “Friends are the family you choose,” implied to me a corollary: that family was something I could choose to define. I now think that was too simplistic.

My brothers and I are very different. We look different, we have different temperaments and we grew up in different eras. Mom and Dad’s life experience changed the way that they parented by the time my youngest brother and I entered the picture, so effectively we grew up with different parents.

In the months that have followed Dad’s death, I have increasingly felt that my brothers and I belong together, that they belong in my life and I in theirs. In the Marine Corps, you receive your “standard issue,” the equipment that you are expected to maintain. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you. My brothers are my “issue.” I am theirs. We don’t get to exchange. We have to discover and value each other as we are.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about our weekend in D.C. – with 20 of us present – was the way that new relationships took shape.

Some of us were just plain new to each other. My nephew remarried and the weekend was the first opportunity his spouse and step-children to meet our clan. My brother’s fairly recently adopted teenage son is finding his way into the family, something that’s new to him after spending most of his life with foster families.

Family members’ messages popped up on Facebook:

The only thing I regret about my life is not having all the people I love in one place. Goodbyes are hard, so …let’s just say see you later.

one thing i hate: one day your having fun with family the next day you have to enter reality again grrrrr 

finally home whoooooo!!!!!!!! happy but sad to leave family 

At Washington National Cathedral Sunday, the jumping-off point for the sermon was a discussion of family. The Dean of the Cathedral, Dean Hall, said he was skeptical about the nuclear family; the Hebrew Bible, after all, unfolds like a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinner (remember Cain and Abel?). Though the family is the structure we’ve developed for mutual support and nurture, it “contains all of the contradictions of what it means to be human.” He went on to say that family alone cannot sustain us, that Jesus alone offers us a community, “a table where all are welcome and equal.”

Mom and Dad left us all a legacy, a multi-faceted legacy of the things they so obviously believed in, through their actions. One of the most important things they stood for was family.

They felt present to me throughout the long weekend that followed the burial on Thursday. I felt their smile as they watched us stumble our way toward one another.

This message, from my niece, said it best:

A wise man once gave me advice that changed the way I thought about life. He told me that family is the meaning of life. He said to me that try as we might, most of us will never do the sort of things about which great books are written. In time, the world will forget all but a very few of us. But in the hearts of those we love, lies our chance to be remembered. 

The wise man was my grandfather. I thought of his words today as I watched the faces of my family gathered to remember. I can’t help thinking that my grandparents’ story isn’t over. They may be laid to rest among heroes, but theirs was not a war story. It was a love story, and it’s one that is still being written.

The pen is in our hands now. Let us remember well, and may we never stop writing. 

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One response to “After: the Pull of Family, Redefined

  1. Pingback: Fishing for Family | The Henry Chronicles

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