19 May 2008

Striving For Connection

Yesterday I got a call that my Grandpa had died.

It surprised me how upset I am. Not the fact that he is gone, but upset that I didn't know him. I didn't have any contact with him for years, though not for lack of trying. He was also in his 80s, a war veteran, and had some serious health problems. His alcoholism drove his life and I'm convinced it ended his life. It's like a friend told me, "You want to just hit the rewind button..." Boy, do I.

I'm in no way blasting my family (who I will call the Smiths) but the whirlwind of thoughts is almost more than I can bear.

My sadness stems more from the fact that the Smith's are so entirely constipated over who is right, who is wrong, and although not saying blatantly, "I don't give a crap about the rest of the family", all the actions taken by us scream this very sentiment. And loudly.

It started when family immigrated here in the 1880's, both my GrGrGrandparents marrying against parents wishes and running off to America. This separation from family is visible over years and years of Smith history. Family scattered across the United States with each and every generation. Losing touch. Disconnected.

I see how easy it is for those with Smith blood to just call it quits when relationships get difficult. I'm not saying impossible relationships or those you cannot nurture. I'm speaking more of difficult relationships that take time to get back on track but could with some emotional elbow grease. Relationship is communication.

Even in my sibling circle, disregarding family is prevalent. Sure when one is single, a body can say have the right to be selfish. That's fine. Singles can say if or when they date, where they live, where they work, or if this Saturday they won't be climbing out of bed till noon. It's a single's life to have that prerogative.

Granted, responsibility to kids, or something like job obligations cannot be avoided. Those things take time away from our loved ones. This is life.

However, Grandpa dying in state custody with no family in sight. It's unconscionable. What the hell is wrong with us Smiths?

To go awol for weeks and have the rest of the family unable to contact you (let alone in an emergency)? This is not selfish at all. It's flat out pricky, wrong, and perpetuates the dysfunction in the family. How hard is it to say hello, and let people..even if just one person know, that you are alive and well? How hard is it to say a happy mother's day to the moms in the family? Send a birthday card? Get together for coffee once in a blue moon?

The flip side you hear from the marrieds. Busy with kids, working parents, PTA meetings, jobs, soccer practice, church obligations, in laws...just freaking broke to drive across town and spend a little time with Grandma. I experience the busy-ness of life when I look up at the calendar and weeks have gone by. Weeks since I've communicated with a relative outside my own household. I admit that I am guilty in this.

Busy-ness is still not justifiable in my mind to not keep in touch. I've been told that I talk too long on the phone. It's easy for me when I only talk to my siblings once in four to five months. This is not unreasonable expectation to keep in touch. This is why I email. This is why I call, or myspace, or facebook. I love my extended family, difficult relationships or not.

My Grandpa's death brought this all to a head in my mind last night. It didn't help that I called my sister and her phone was disconnected. Disconnected. It just made me hurt more..bawling my eyes out. This is my point. Disconnected family.

I'm not an idealist in how I view my relatives. Connection is how relationships SHOULD be. It's just a little hard for me to envision it when one is not talking to another, so-and-so is being distant, this person got married and I hear only 6 months later. I am hellbent to change this separatist pattern in my kids.

So, yeah. I feel sad. I will miss him. It bothers me more, not that he is gone but that my Grandfather died so alone. If anything it burns in me, drives me to teach my kids what a functional family truly is.


This cannot be asking too much.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

All I can think is how fortunate your children are to have a mother who wants better for them. Who recognizes the dysfunction of that whole mess rather than blindly accepting it. So sorry for the hurting.

Heather said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I know where you are coming from.

My husband and I have both ways going. On the dad's side of each of our families there is distance and disconnection--we have cousins living nearby that we have never met. We are determined to keep those relationships we do have regardless of how hard it is--and sometimes my dad is HARD to keep connected with.

On the other hand both of our mothers' families are very close and connected--for that we have been blessed.

... Paige said...

I hope you succeed in your mission.

Jo Beaufoix said...

So sorry Bee. I totally get this as I haven't seen my grandad since I was 18. He remarried, moved to the Isle of White and cut us all off. It broke my mum's heart and we've tried to get in touch but he doesn't want to know. Maybe I'll try again now I've read this. Maybe, though it hurts.


Anonymous said...

As you know I struggle with much of this same disconnection from my side of the 'Smiths'. It is difficult to accept and/or 'get used to'. It is why my husband and I are practically 'up his parent's butts'...especially since my FIL's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. To the extent that my husband's pay check a few weeks ago was $128 due to the month he spent in the bigger bigger city with his mom (instead of working) while his Dad was being diagnosed. It's what 'functional' families do - they sacrifice for the well being of the family. Today we just got back from the bigger, bigger city where his Dad had his first day of chemo and radiation. Besides his wife, it was just me and my husband walking alongside them through this journey (even though there are two more siblings). There is so much more I want to say to you. To comfort you, to tell you I wholly understand, and to validate the notion that yes indeedy family IS everything even if you have nothing - it's all that matters. You are in my prayers as you work through this sadness and find a place for it where it doesn't hurt so much.

Whistle Britches said...

I admire your hellbented-ness.
I've got some of that in my blood trying to end some family dysfunction.
So far, I'm way ahead of the plan.

R said...

Tell me about it.

I am sorry to hear this. Rewind button envy it is.

Know I am thinking of you.

Foo said...

A great post, BR.

My condolences on your grandfather's passing, and for the circumstances surrounding it.

Jaina said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather. He is in my prayers, as are you.
I think it's admirable that you are determined to stop this cycle with your own children. Good luck, I know you can do it!

Gen said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather dying alone. I can understand why you'd be so upset. This was a great post. It reminds me that my family, even with all the kookiness that takes place at times, is connected, even if only minimally at times. You're right, being connected is important, and it's worth working for it.

brooke said...

I'm sorry!

Mary Alice said...

I am sorry for the loss of your grandfather...and for the you never knowing him or others like you want to.

You are doing all you can, by making sure another generation doesn't think that it is normal, that another generation realizes life with close communication can be better.

Lisa said...

I am so sorry for your loss. My heart is with you. Hope you'll be able to get back in touch with your sis soon!

Millie said...


I'm so sorry. I wish things could have been different for you, your grandpa, and your family.

We have a touch of this in my family too. It makes me want to gather all my babies and get closer to my extended family.

Millie said...

P.S. I love talking to you on the phone.

holly said...

all my dad's side of the family heart jesus and ONLY heart jesus. that's really the only thing they do, and really aren't interested in hearing about anything non jesus-hearting-related. so you can see why i might not call them much.

but i am wholeheartedly FOR your getting in touch with YOUR family. do that.

and i'm very very sorry about gramps. i was really punched in the gut that my nanna died in a "home". i would have liked to have been there with her.

holly said...

just to be clear about me not being a jerk : i was in northern ireland at the time she died in wyoming.



and she had no phone.

okay okay i could have written her a letter.

ancient one said...

Sorry to hear of your granddad's passing. My family doesn't visit that much, but we keep the phones busy.

Also my mom's family has a family reunion each year so we keep up that way.

I know of so many people that don't speak to their own siblings. I sure hope that never occurs in my family.

You are a good mother. You can be the one to start the change!

Deb said...

I'm sorry for your loss, particularly for the loss of the grandfather that never was. I think those are the most difficult losses.

I'm with you on the idea of being connected, but unfortunately, there are some dysfunctions too vast to cross and for the sake of one's own sanity, disconnecting is the only answer. Ironically, I just blogged about this the other day after a visit from my mom.

Dapoppins said...

My grandma D was the fabric that conneted my immdiate family together. We were all there with her when she passed.

I haven't been together with all of them at once since then, almost three years ago.

Blank said...

Of course you're sad. That's a lot to miss.

People really get hung up on some silly stuff, don't they?

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry, my dear friend. So terribly sorry.

Mrs4444 said...

Sorry about your loss (all of it). I think families just keep doing what they know. It takes a lot to break the mold and forge a different path. Of my nine siblings, two of them have little to do with the rest of the family, and it's just odd. It's no surprise that these two are also the most sensitive in our family (and the most abused by my late father, also a WWII veteran alcoholic, incidentally.) Intimacy is just hard for some people, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, and hope we can all learn from your hell-bentedness.

It seems to me that it often falls to one person in the family to get everyone together, to make the effort, which can often be a lot of work and frustrating- but it's worth it for sure. Keep at it, and hugs to you.

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