Families are a funny thing. They provide our genetic material, our roots, and our history. Books and movies portray the best and worst manifestations of families. The really dysfunctional ones (and which families aren’t?) provide fodder for stand-up comedians and tell-all memoirs?not to mention the couches of both psychiatrists and late night talk show hosts.
When we’re young, we compare our families to those of our friends. Inevitably their curfews are later, the allowances larger, the chores fewer, and the rules more elastic. But as adults we still compare. Their family appears closer, more supportive, more generous. Their Christmas get-togethers are befitting a Norman Rockwell painting. Even their alcoholic uncle is a funny drunk rather than a mean bully.
We wish our family was smaller or larger, nearer or further away, or more fun or more grounded. We get into spats, hold grudges, pass judgment. We wonder why that brother married what’s-her-name or why that cousin can’t hold a job. We question others? parenting skills or how they spend their money. Lord knows we wouldn’t have bought that fill-in-the-blank or allowed our kid to pierce those particular parts. We would have put our foot down when the kid was first showing signs of . . .
Then, in moments of clarity, we finally learn that being a parent is hard work. There are triumphs and proud moments, but mostly It’s a day in, day out slog of being loving but firm, of walking the talk, and of righting wrongs and misunderstandings. Or of asking questions?and accepting answers.
We learn that as important as friends may be, when the crunch comes we want and need our families. They are the ones at our bedsides; they are the ones praying for us. They are most likely to lend money in an emergency and forgive us when we act badly.
All of this came flooding back to me as a cousin lay critically ill in the hospital and then passed away. At age 54 his death is a merciful end to a lifetime of ill health and pain. All of us will think about the deceased, his family, and this time of decision making and closure. Death and funerals are not easy to cope with, and some are more able to rise to the occasion. We will cringe at the petty disagreements and inappropriate behaviour of some. We will be heartened by the hugs, warm words, and presence of others. We all act exactly as one would expect us to because people are flawed and behaviour is ingrained, and because children live what they learn and sometimes the lessons are skipped or poorly taught. Sometimes the lesson becomes more of a warning than an example.
Yet when all is said and done, these are our people, our tribe. For better or worse they are the ones connected to us by blood for all time. Because we are imperfect ourselves forgiving and forgetting is our only hope, from where I sit.