One thing I learned in January is how important it is to find the good in what feels like an otherwise bad time.
When I lost my grandpa three weeks after losing my dog, all I could think is what next? How much can I take? What is the universe trying to tell me?
What I learned is that my family isn’t as weird as I envisioned and I am not a disappointment. That is a monumentally huge step for me.
Let me explain. I spend a lot of time worrying about other people. I worried about seeing family I haven’t seen a while, mostly about whether they would see me as a failure. A failure for taking too long to finish college, for already having a divorce behind me, for being in a second marriage already (with a stepson), for not going to church every Sunday, for the photo I sent at Christmas time which prompted a letter from my grandpa about having “breasts more modestly covered”- talk about humiliating. It’s an unbelievable amount of baggage I carry to any family meeting.
My family is quite spread out, so I don’t get to see everyone very often. It had been 5 to 10 years since I’d seen some of them. It’s almost like getting together with strangers.
The thing about going to see my family after grandpa’s passing is my mind was more absorbed with shock and grief than it was with worrying about my own insecurities or past “proof” of my ability to disappoint. (It seems almost laughably harsh as I write it now.)
My first stop (with my dad and stepmom) was to my uncle’s house, the one I hadn’t seen in 5 years. Entering their home I immediately felt comfortable. It felt safe. There were no pretenses. My aunt was the strong, welcoming person I remembered. My cousin, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years, was now a full-grown man with quiet sarcasm.
It was my uncle, though, that I really connected with. He was with my grandpa when things took their sudden downturn. Throughout lunch he tearfully explained what happened and what he was thinking every step of the way. Before we left I thanked him for sharing his story and for being with grandpa in his final moments.
At my grandmother’s house were my other uncles, aunt, and half of my cousins. The rest of my cousins, my stepbrother, and my stepsister arrived the next day and for the first time in at least 10 years, all of our family was together in one place.
My mom happened to be visiting my other grandma a few hours away. My two grandmas had been good friends until my one grandma moved. My mom offered to drive up one afternoon (seven hours roundtrip) so that she and grandma could be there for me and my other grandma.
I was touched at that generosity then worried about my parents being in the same room. Would it be awkward? Would my dad’s family want my mom there?
There was nothing to fear. Everyone got along. My mom talked to my aunt and my stepmom for more than an hour while my two grandmas visited. My cousins on my dad’s side talked about how great my grandma on my mom’s side was. It made me wonder what I really thought would happen.
I spent a lot of time with my family in those five days. I talked to all of them. And listened. Really listened.
We found camaraderie. My church-going cousins relayed what clothing had “gotten them in trouble” with grandpa and grandma. It wasn’t just me. There is nothing wrong with me.
We consoled each other. We caught up with each other. We laughed and we cried together.
We communicated in facial expressions and subtle eye movements, a language my husband affectionately named Martin speak. I never thought about it until then, but we all do that. A raised eyebrow from across the room is unmistakable.
One night as we talked, my uncle shared a sentiment he had read during cancer treatment a few years ago. He said, “You can’t stop misery from coming, but you don’t have to give it a chair to sit in.”
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing- letting misery sit and stay. My own worries have kept me down. The things I carry with me as permanent battle wounds can (and should) be shaken off.
It has taken me 32 years, but I realize now what an extraordinary family I have. I am not an outsider, nor am I a disappointment. I am a Martin. We fit just fine.