I grew up surrounded by my Aunts and Uncles for every possible holiday, looked forward to it almost as much as most kids look forward to Christmas gifts. The gatherings and meals were filled with laughter and togetherness. Now that I have a family, and kids of my own - I see the importance of togetherness even more.
I wish I could change alot of things about how "together" my childhood family is now, but I cherish every memory I have. Standing by my Granny V in the kitchen watching her slice homemade lemon pie, and smelling her perfume and thinking of how beautiful she looked after cooking all day in the kitchen, having tea parties on an old tree stump with my Grandpa V. Building forts over and over and over with my cousins. Being at my Granny and Grandpa L's house and thinking that burning leaves or picking up walnuts was the most fun in the world. And at every family gathering, no matter where, listening to the grownups tell funny stories from their younger years always intrigued me. There was depth and it peeked my interest always, and now more then ever I value those days.
I long for those types of childhood memories for my own kids. There are alot of hoops to jump through to get our family "together" now. I have 5 step sisters, 2 step brothers, 1 brother in law/sister in law, a combination of 16 nieces/nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, one living grandmother. My children have met all of these people only a handful of times, and I'm ashamed to say - some have never even met little J - but all have met big E. For such a large family we get together very little. It's no one's fault in particular, it's just how it is, schedules, jobs, out of state, etc. I missed Christmas with 1/2 of my family this year, and I'm still not ok with it. Not only did we miss Christmas with MY family, we missed it with my husbands brother and their family because it was just not financially possible for us to travel there. It is a difficult concept for me, one that I'm ok with adjusting too, but I will say - difficult.
I'm not ok with saying that the last time I saw some of my family was at my brothers funeral - almost 2 years ago. I'm unsettled that I'm partially at fault, because I should be more aggressive at keeping those family ties strong. I need my kids to know where they came from, and I'm in a fortunate position to offer them more then just pictures and conversation, I can actually take them to people. I'm not above admitting that I can, and should have done something about this by now - in fact, I take full accountability. It really shouldn't be so complicated, life has become too "busy" these days, I don't remember life being so busy when I was little, family time came so easy it seemed. Either my parents were super hero's, or they just weren't sidetracked by technology, phone calls, jobs, etc., there was always room for family time. I already know the answer to that - they were super hero's.
It's no secret to anyone who really knows me that I had a lasting bond with my brother Mike. I do have another brother, and we're not as close now as we were as children. Our lives have taken different directions unfortunately, and we see each other very little. My oldest brother Michael who passed away 08.06.07 barely got to know little J. I remember when the below picture was taken, afterwards he spent the entire afternoon bonding with little J. By the end of the evening little J was sitting on his lap as the most content little toddler in the world, having skipped two naps. He was 100% his Uncle Mike's best boy that day. Tears roll down my face in remembering how we had dinner that evening, and Uncle Mike held little J (then just 1.5 years old) and shared bites of food with him, swapping drool and giggles with him as if he were his own. I lay awake at night and think about the "what if's"... What if I could call Michael today and tell him how big E is doing in school, how he's growing up, how he's becoming a tweenager, and how little J is learning, growing, and changing. I feel robbed, and then I throw my pity party... until something like THIS slaps me in the face to remind me that I had 31 GREAT years with my brother.
As an adult, and mom, I'm beginning to realize that no matter how good your intentions are, you can't always build a bond with the people in your life that you long to do so with. Sometimes you just have what you have, and you must be content with it.
Recently, my husbands brother and entire family came to visit. I am still learning new things about them, and enjoy any time I get to spend with them. I love listening to other peoples "stories". I'm grateful that my sister in law posts often to her blog about family, events, updates, etc., I've learned alot that way about the family that I married into! When my husband and I met and we were getting to know each other, I thought it was interesting that we both had a brother named Michael. The kids nicknamed his brother Uncle Mikey, and my brother was Uncle Mike.
I found myself feeling sad and happy while they visited, in watching my husbands eagerness while we waited on them to arrive for dinner when we met the day they got here, he couldn't wait to see his brother, and also because of little J's attachment to Uncle Mikey during the week they visited. Big E is/was old enough to know and remember my brother, but little J will not ever actually remember him. So, there was an emotion for me each time I saw little J with Uncle Mikey. The feeling was joy and sadness at the same time. Joy that our youngest had the opportunity to love, touch, and have "in your face" time with his Uncle Mikey. Sadness that I'll never get to see what that would have been like with my brother. I excused myself often, and tried my best not to let my emotions get the best of me. There were a few times that I had to sit by myself and remind myself that I'm not the first person to ever lose a sibling, I'm not alone with those feelings. It was ok to be a little sad... in fact, at times I felt sorry for myself, and threw mini pity parties along the way. I did that privately.
I plan to do better, to provide my kids with more insight about where they come from, sharing their family history with them as my parents did when I grew up, and I hope that I can keep my brothers memory alive enough for little J that he can know what kind of Uncle he was, and would have been.
In memory of my brother and my step-mom, I'm hoping in the next few weeks to have some photos to put up of a project I've planned. A peace garden of sorts that will be in their honor. Our kids lost a grandma, and uncle all in 2 years time, and I want to have a happy place to reflect on memories with them.
I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them.
The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.
Author:Rita Mae Brown