It’s weird even writing the word. Family. For the last half of my life, I would tell people I didn’t have a family, despite having an estranged brother. It’s never been concept I’ve really related to. In fact, not having family ties has become a big part of my identity. I don’t need no stinkin’ family. I am independent, self-sustaining, free from the ties of DNA or surname.
Yet, now after this weekend, I kinda, sorta think I am part (albeit distantly) of a f-f-f-f-family. And it’s screwin’ with my head, man.
It has been a decade since I have seen my brother and his wife and kids. My personal mythology says he rejected me because of my chosen faith of Buddhism. It’s a good story that allows me to be the innocent victim of my big, bad conservative Christian brother’s narrow-mindedness. And it allowed me to maintain the independence that is the cornerstone of my identity. Besides, other than DNA and our shared fucked-up childhood, what did we have in common? It was better to let that sleeping dog lie. Yet, I wanted to have a relationship with his kids – to be their crazy Auntie Mary who lived up north who had all the critters. Not being able to have that made me sad. Still every year I sent them presents at Christmas time in hopes that maybe one day they might wake up from the spell my brother cast and realize that Auntie Mary isn’t evil or uncaring, but actually kind of nice and fun.
Every few years I would consider being the bigger person and try to break the ice that had formed around my brother’s and I’s relationship. It’s hard when that much time has passed. What do you say? Pride, fear, anger and any number of conflicting emotions left me without words, so the silence won out.
With the news of my brother’s cancer, I figured it was time to stop all the nonsense. At least we would have something to talk about. So, before I gave myself a chance to talk myself out of it, I made the long journey south to visit my brother in the hospital. I was nervous, to be sure. I barely got any sleep the night before. I attribute that to my friend’s overly soft mattress, but I’m sure a lot of it was nerves. But, I knew I was doing the right thing. That I never questioned.
The reunion felt a bit awkward. The first comment out of his mouth was “so, it takes cancer to finally get you down here to see us.” I opened my mouth to toss back an accusation at him, but I could see his kids watching me intently, trying to figure out who or what I was to my brother, to them. But, I just smiled and told him it was good to see him. I ended up hanging out in the room with his wife, kids and sundry colleagues and friends for about an hour or so. Then I went out to lunch with his wife and kids . . uh, I mean, my sister-in-law and nieces and nephew.
They’re nice kids. They told me all about their school, their sailing and what they want to be when they grow up. My brother and sister-in-law have done a nice job with those kids. I look forward to getting to know them better now that is an option.
After lunch my sister-in-law dropped me back at the hospital so I could visit my brother alone. Gulp. He was asleep when I got there, and the urge was great just to leave a note and tippy toe out of the room. But, then a nurse burst in with no compunction about waking him up. For someone who had recently had a few feet of guts and other organs removed three days ago, he was doing really well. Alert. Good color. They had even started him on soft foods. He definitely didn’t look like he had been issued a death sentence. Yet, there was still that tumor that they couldn’t remove, and that probably wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. A slow growing tumor, but a malignant tumor nonetheless.
We chatted awkwardly for a while. Then the oddest thing happened, something I totally did not expect, a miracle of sorts: he apologized for being a jerk these last few years. So, we spoke briefly about our rift, but there was no need to belabor it. I could tell he was uncomfortable talking about it, so I just accepted his apology and we moved on. We left on good terms, with promises of future visits and more contact.
I’m desperately trying to come up with a way of closing this post. Am I hopeful? Yes. Sad? Yes. Confused? Hell yes. Yeah . . .