Tag Archives: family

Now what?

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I’m at a loss.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling, or what is the proper reaction to the news I got today about my brother. He has cancer. Intestinal cancer that has spread to his lymph nodes. That’s all they really know for now. He’s going in for surgery next month to remove his appendix as well as some of his small intestine and colon.

My sister-in-law sent out a broadcast email with the news. You know the news is never going to be good when it starts out saying “we love you” and apologizing for letting you know via email. Right after I read the email my boss walked into my office to tell me he didn’t want me taking tomorrow off (which I had requested earlier in the day). When I looked up with tears in my eyes and told him what had happened, he slowly backed out of the office saying “that’s OK. Take the day off. Really. No problem.” Poor guy, he has no idea how to react to a woman’s tears.

To say my brother and I aren’t close is a bit of an understatement. I’ve written about our strained relationship here and here and here. For years, I’ve pretty much said the only thing my brother and I have in common is DNA, and DNA alone does not a relationship make. I’m not sentimental about family. Never have been.

Yet . . .

He’s my brother and he has cancer. And while there is a possibility that we may have many long years ahead of us to nurse our grudges and continue the estrangement, now there is a good chance that we may not.

So, now what?

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This, that, and the other thing

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This: The other night I was very pleasantly surprised to get emails from both of my teenage nieces thanking me for the Amazon gift cards I sent them for Christmas. This is the first time I have ever received any acknowledgment, much less thanks for the annual sending of the $25 Amazon gift card.

My brother, the girls’ father, and I have been estranged for about a decade now. And even before that the relationship was strained and before that there was another period of estrangement. Our most recent estrangment started after I “came out” to him as a Buddhist. As a fundamentalist Christian, I guess he didn’t want me to have a bad influence on his children. Who knows? But, even though I hadn’t seen the girls since they were very young, every year I sent them Amazon gift cards, and every year it went unacknowledged. I never knew if they got them, or if they got them if they knew they were from me. But, it was the only connection I had with them, so eventually I let go of all expectations of gratitude and sent the cards and hoped the kids were able to buy something fun with them.

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From a distance

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It was four years ago, during the Cedar Fire that swept Eastern San Diego County, that I had to open a door in my heart that had been shut for several years. My brother lived in the area that was devastated by the fire. At that time, we had not spoken in over six years. But, I knew he lived in one of the hard hit communities, and it was very possible that he had lost or was going to lose his home. I remember I called his number. It just rang. That could mean one of two things; his place had no power, or there was no home. I didn’t want to worry about him or his family, but I did.

I followed the coverage relentlessly. CNN becomes my constant companion during any kind of natural or even man made disaster. I hate to admit it, but I find it exciting. It breaks up the monotony of the same old same old. But, it also exercises my mind of compassion. I try and let the victims’ suffering in and generate some genuine compassion (rather than simply pity).

A week later, when I heard and read that the evacuees were allowed to come back to their homes, I tried calling again. Answering machine. Whew. I hung up. Fine. Good. I could stop worrying about them. A colleague, however, chided me for not leaving a message, so he shamed me into calling again. Well, OK. I’ll leave a short message. As I was leaving a message, my sister-in-law picked up the phone. Oh shit. But, we ended up having a very cordial conversation about their ordeal (they had to evacuate out to Arizona b/c that was the first place that had open lodging, dealing with rumors of their house burning down, confirmation that their friends’ houses had, etc.). She said she’d have my brother call me.

He never did. I closed up that door in my heart again. Put the key in a safe place in case I ever needed it again.

So, now it’s 10 years that my brother and I haven’t spoken. And here I am once again nervously checking the news coverage to see if his home is in the line of fire. So far he’s in the clear. I don’t want to worry about him. But, I do.

It makes me sad and angry that I don’t have a relationship with my only living relative. But, apparently we can’t get past our vast differences: he’s a very conservative Christian living in the San Diego area, and I’m a very liberal Buddhist living in the Bay Area. He cut me out of his life 10 years ago after I told him I was a Buddhist. I guess he didn’t want his kids to be influenced by me. Sure, it was OK for me to be around his kids when I was drunken depressed atheist. It doesn’t make sense. So, in order to protect my heart, I shut that door. There are moments when I’m tempted to be the bigger person and try and start a dialogue, but pride gets in the way, as well as fear that I’ll be rejected again. It’s sad that I missed his kids growing up. I send them gifts every Christmas. I never get back a thank you. Every year as they got older I thought “maybe, maybe this time, I’ll get an acknowledgment. Maybe I can start a relationship with my neices and nephew.” But, it doesn’t happen. I accept that. Sadly.

So, from a distance I do care. And maybe that’s as close as it’s going to ever be.