Saturday, October 1, 2011

What defines "family"?

Greeting Brothers and Sisters, and thank you for casting your gaze upon these scribblings. I hope this moment finds you well and well-tended.

Time to toast the silence again with a question for those who have pondered such things - what, exactly, is a family made of? The obvious first answer is borne of biology and then expands out to unions, but how can we move beyond these boundaries or even knock them down and allow ourselves to choose who we want to live our lives with and not be shackled by traditional definitions that often trap us in situations that we would ordinarily not willingly embrace?

These questions arise due to a looming issue with a "family" member. I use quotations because by definition, this person is a part of my family but is also the type of person who I would avoid at all costs and certainly seek to shelter my children from. We are talking about a person who has spent a lifetime seeking the "easy way", and now finds herself in the position that she has sought for decades. This is a woman who endured verbal and physical abuse herself, and allowed it to be perpetrated upon her children, yet would not divorce the man responsible for the following reason;

"Why settle for half when you can have it all?"

So, now she is there. With the death of her husband, she now "has it all" in the form of material things like investments, a big house (paid for), and all the other "stuff" that kept her in her relationship for so long. She has "won" her prize, yet finds herself in poor physical health and with far too much to manage on her own. This has created a situation where her 2 children are being pulled upon by emotional manipulation to come to her aid so she can maintain her lifestyle without having to give up her new booty. Offering to pay her son minimum wage to become her handyman/laborer/go-fer so she can run off to the casino and do her thing is one of her solutions. Never mind the fact that he has his own life. Crying on the phone about her fears and loneliness, yet unable to find a solution that does not require a major disruption of the lives of her kids to make the next transition. How does one sift through the rubble of the past to arrive at the "right thing" that needs to be done?

This is a woman who once said to my wife, out of the blue, "You know, I think Winona should have been an only child" (Winona being the older of my two daughters). WTF does that mean?!? That our little one isn't worthy of living is what I get from that. This is a person who has made a career out of tearing others down and back-stabbing while putting on a smile and adopting this sweet little old lady stance. She is evil. She is of the opinion that I am worthless as a partner since I do not act like her husband did - being the "provider". I may be deeply flawed and possibly even a loser, but I have NEVER beaten my wife or told my kids the were worthless and would only succeed in life by using what lies between their legs to get ahead.

So here we are, facing a choice about what to do with this person. The vengeful part of me (or maybe the wise part - I honestly don't know yet) wants to allow her to enjoy (suffer) the fruits of her efforts, yet there is a compassionate part that sees the damaged child that is scared and in need. Then there is the notion of "duty" to one's family that keeps coming up. But I ask you, does this exist? What obligations do we have to those who brought us into this world? How many of you have family that have been cast aside because being around them was seriously detrimental to your mental health?

I remember being faced with a similar choice when my father was dying. We had moved into a small cabin at my auntie's resort in the north woods with my aunts and uncle to care for him as he slipped out of this world. Winter was upon us and we were faced with having to move into the main lodge with all of them as our cabin was not adequately equipped to deal with the cold, and I could not fathom being under the same roof with my "family" all winter ( images from "The Shining" kept appearing). I had a brand-new baby and a house back in the city to deal with, not to mention the thick cloud of tobacco smoke and psychopathy that hung in the air in that lodge, so I chose to move back to our own home and let my elders deal with my dad. Upon informing him of my choice, he cursed me and said that this would never be forgiven, and that I was violating some sort of family code. This from a man who left my life at age 2 and popped in and out for the next 20 years and never contributed a dime to my upkeep while my mom raised me and my brother (different dad) by herself. Was it my "duty" to expose my own family to the virtual and literal toxicity of that place just so he could be happy in his final months? I didn't think so and I have never regretted that choice.

I did return in the spring and was there for his final breath, spending the last few days sleeping at the side of his bed to help him deal with the dementia that had arrived due to his cancer moving into his brain, and when he asked me to help him end his suffering I obliged without hesitation. This was not done out of a sense of duty or from some sense of obligation, but rather out of a desire to help the human being in front of me. I would do the same for a complete stranger. There was no inheritance, no windfall or cashing-in, just the desire to do the right thing as I understood it in that moment.

So now a similar situation has arisen with my mother-in-law. She is toxic in the extreme, and is eminently capable of inflicting great harm to my wife and kids due to her complete lack of a filter on her mouth. Our current life situation is not perfect in every way, but the one thing we have cultivated here is a deep sense of respect and an abundance of love for one another. The thought of uprooting my family and exposing them to such potential harm causes me great angst, and does for my wife as well. Are we bound by blood or is there a different meaning for this word "family"?

I often visit many of your blogs or read your comments and have come to view you as a virtual family that brings love and wisdom freely without any sense of obligation. I have very little real family alive and the same situation exists for my wife. I see so many of you as my kin and have felt blessed by the love you have given me over the years without even ever having met most of you in person. This is what a family is in my mind - people who choose to come together and find a way to support and honor one-another with no thought about what is to be gained in return. I have heard it said that we choose who we will be with before we enter this realm, and that is often a tough one to wrap the brain around, but at what point does the blood connection cease to have any meaning and become a shackle rather than choice? I really don't know and am asking humbly for any insight any of you may have regarding this distinction.

We are most certainly in the midst of the Apocalypse. All of the sticky, nasty stuff we have been carefully hiding away seems to be surfacing whether we like it or not, and the time has come to sort this shit out once and for all. Some appear to be meeting this challenge with grace and amazing strength, while others are completely melting down and losing their shit. I find myself vacillating back and forth between the 2 and hope to find some strength and wisdom by putting this out as call for assistance from my own family, wherever or whoever you are.

I do hope that life is bright and filled with kindness and loving embraces for all of you. I know that things seem really dire in so many ways, but I also know that we are capable of moving beyond what appears to be our current "reality" and finding the real definition of what it is to be a loving and supportive group of scattered and separate entities (or so it seems) and live our lives as a true family, no matter what has come before. All it requires I think is letting go of the hurt of the past and a willingness to see where we are One, not many. Best of luck to all who choose this path.