Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children
A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.
Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)
Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood
Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.
That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.
Phase X – You’re it, kid!
Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.
It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?
Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…
I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.
All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.
A constant topic in my writing as well…
Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:
- The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
- Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
- Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.
But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…