Monday, July 23, 2012

The ties that bind

I started this post more than 3 months ago after a rare but delightful dinner "date" in DC with my half sister and niece. I have 5 siblings, the progeny of my biological father and I wanted to write about that. My sister is 10 years my junior and we've had sporadic contact over the last 20 years not for any reason other than we didn't have the bond of two kids who grew up in the same household (or even state). The last time we saw each other, the wunderkind still needed her pacifier for the plane ride and Facebook didn't exist. It is now our primary method of communication these days – thanks MZ!  That last visit was caused by the death of my beloved paternal Grandfather. This time thankfully, no one had died. My 10 year old niece and her classmates trekked up from Louisiana to behold the majesty that is our nation's capital. When I learned they would be in town, I vowed to seize the opportunity to see this side of my family again.  Another cousin, from my father’s side as well who I’d also not seen in 13 years, joined us and we had a ball. While it matters not to me whether I see my father again (that's a story for another post, maybe) the thought of not communing with my sister, who is so sweet, and her kids does pain me. So we text and message frequently and each new message or post makes my heart smile.

 As I said I intended to delve into my familial relationships or lack thereof when I started this post.  And that I will do except this time with a twinge of sadness. My cousin died a week ago, making her death the 6th family member (through blood or marriage) to which I've borne witness in the last 10 1/2 months since my Dad (technically my Stepfather) died.  To say I'm exhausted from death is an understatement. 
Her late father and my mother were brother and sister.  Not only were we first cousins but I am her namesake.  We were born 8 months apart and my Mom was apparently at such a loss for names that she copied her middle name,  varying one letter, for me. No I won't tell you what it is because I don't really like it but if you call it at a family function, I'll come a runnin' since within my extended family I am known almost exclusively by it.  Anyway, I recall many a sleepover with my cousin and her siblings as a young gurl but as we approached adulthood our lives took divergent paths; hers rife with the temptations of substance abuse and mine, well that path has yet to be determined.  While I see and FB her younger sister regularly, I hadn’t seen her in about 7 years ago. On the rare occasion that I heard anything about her or her brood it always spurred something in me because we were connected not only by blood but name.  After about 2 weeks on life support, she died.  She left this earthly home without leaving any earthy assets, aka an insurance policy, to cover her final expenses. For the last week I've had a bird's eye view of some of the bickering, selfishness, and unnecessary displays of pride that have ensued because of it. I'll be honest, my family as a whole is rich in pride, control-freaks and talk but cash poor.  We have no clan reserve of savings, stock or property that can be liquidated at will. While many of us are homeowners, few of us have any equity since the market plummeted 5 years ago.  Thus we are a family like so many now whose branches are but a few paychecks away from a gut-wrenching foreclosure notice and carb heavy dinner at the nearest soup kitchen.  But given all that and most probably because of all that - the tie the binds - the necessary funds were indeed pooled together and she will be laid to rest on Thursday. Now this is where I get up on my soap box -  if you don't have the money to get a decent insurance policy or prepay your final rites then have the decency to let your family know (in writing preferably or bring it up at the next dinner at Big Ma's) that cremation is a real and viable option for your remains.  No family that wouldn't spend $10,000 dollars on the treatment of a living individual should waste those resources on a dead body, it makes no sense nor its it fair to the survivors.  You're dead - don't be a bigger pain in the ass in death than you were in life.  There I said it.

One of my newest close friends is from Cameroon and I never cease to be amazed at the the sense of community within Africans. There is always someone at her home often visiting from abroad for weeks or even a month at a time. And she plays hostess lovingly and willing at each turn even when it leads to some serious sleep deprivation on her part. Her sisters and friends have even graciously and genuinely extended invitations to the wunderkind and I to stay with them abroad as well because to them, we are family.  BTW, I fully intend to take advantage of their generosity and kinship next summer.  I've heard and seen that Hispanics will live 6 adults and 5 kids to a  3 bedroom house - until it's paid off, then move on to help the next one get paid off.  That's a commendable way to live imho. So many Americans will do anything too avoid family gatherings and can barely stand to be inconvenienced or have their privacy invaded for more than a few hours.  Even I was leery about our week-long family vacation last summer.  We were 17 strong - mostly loud and willful personalities but we had an absolute blast. So when my Dad bid us "Adieu" exactly a month later, we were all truly heartbroken but so very grateful for the time and the memories shared on the beaches of Myrtle SC family

This post is not about who abandoned whom nor who chose the right or wrong path because the final analysis can't truly be known until the end chapter and sometimes not until much later than that. In hindsight, I do wish that I would not have allowed space, fear of addiction and the sorrows that accompany it, stop me from spending more time with my cousin.  Perhaps another encounter could have given her the strength to seek treatment sooner or she could have imparted some bit of wisdom to me or a good belly laugh could have softened the stresses of that day.  We'll never know now. What I do know is we need to forgive each other, check in on one another a little more often, give each other the benefit of doubt, patience and kindness we so willingly offer to strangers. While you can pick your friends, lovers, and spouses you can't choose your family, no matter their issues and foibles. All too often at the end though, family are the ones who'll be sending you off and remembering...

Rest in Peace KIM. 

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