Monday 19 June 2023

Introspective Holidays

Holidays, even the most uncomplicated ones, are hard. Perhaps I'm only speaking for myself because most everyone I meet seems to love the hustle, bustle and often consternation associated with huge family dinners, trying to make everyone comfortable and happy and purchasing gifts or tokens of affection that won't immediately be returned for something else. I know most of you are thinking about Christmas, birthdays, Halloween, Valentine's Day and Easter, but we've had three very important ones the past month that have made me realize how pathetically sad my own life has become--Mother's Day, Memorial Day and Father's Day.

These special days bring little besides a huge lump to my heart and tears that can't be stopped from sliding down my cheeks at the most inopportune moments. Remembrances from the past bring to the foreground once again all I've missed by not being part of a family that was encouraged to spend time together and keep in touch once we had gone our separate ways. I suppose my latest bout of melancholia started on Friday when one of the men I work with told me that he and his wife were heading to Idaho again. They'd been there over Memorial Day to decorate graves and talk about good times from their childhood with siblings and friends. This time they were simply going to play board games and enjoy being together.

I haven't seen two of my siblings for nearly twenty years. Perhaps they would have come for my brother's memorial service if it hadn't been during Covid when flights were almost impossible to get and large gatherings were prohibited. I remember that time vividly because my brother's daughter from South Carolina drove all the way with her family so she could give her father's life history in a thirty minutes service on a cold and blustery November day at the cemetery a quarter of a mile away from the home daddy had built for us.  Sandon died the day after Thanksgiving alone in his room at the nursing home from a sudden heart attack. 

He had been badly burned a few years earlier when he fell into a fire pit while at a party and couldn't get out. The people he was with waited until they thought he wouldn't survive before throwing him in the back of his van and leaving it outside the emergency rooms doors at the local hospital. He was so badly burned and swollen that it took three days for him to be identified and transferred to the burn unit at the University of Utah. When I first saw him his head was swollen to twice its normal size and he was hardly recognizable. But he grasp my hand and despite my reluctance to be where I was watching him suffer I couldn't bring myself to leave the room as more dead skin was pulled from his body and he was given further burn treatments. I loved him dearly and had watched over him as best I could throughout his life because I have never gotten over being blamed for the accident that left him with lifelong mental and physical disabilities.

My one sister who lived there and had been responsible for overseeing his affairs let everyone know that quarantine rules meant only seven people would be allowed at his graveside service. She was not happy because his daughter was driving across country and bringing her entire family with her. I hadn't had much contact with my niece in decades, but she was the only one of six children who would even talk to her father after their parent's divorce and she had called the the day before Thanksgiving to tell me that someone wasn't right with him. When I relayed the message, I was told he was doing just fine.

I wanted desperately to go to the service, even knowing that it was a long drive over what could be some very bad roads and I wouldn't get to see his face, but how could I take the place of someone who was sacrificing so much to get there? I cried a lot after making that decision and telling my sister that one of my niece's children could take my place. My son was outraged when he heard what was being planned. No regulations had been set as to how many people could be out in the cold, fully masked to attend a memorial service. He believed my sister just wanted to be in control as she always did. He said I was going and he and his wife were taking me. We would stand on the outside the fence if necessary.

Knowing I was going to be there regardless of what had been said, my sister asked me to say a few words. I might have done so had it not been one of the saddest experiences of my life. There must have been thirty-five people present--separated into three distinct groups that wouldn't walk six feet to talk to each other. My brother's ex-wife and her children who had not spoken to their father in nearly twenty years clustered together  away from the tent that had been set up for family. My two sisters who lived in town and even got to see him before the casket lid was closed sat underneath the tent with members of their families. I was terrified to go near them because I knew I wasn't welcome so I stood with my son and daughter-in-law and a couple of other people I didn't know. 

I was having a very emotional time, especially after learning that my niece had been in town the night before when my sisters went to the mortuary, but they hadn't told her that she was allowed to see him too. This sweet young woman was as broken-hearted as I was. She had been estranged from her family since the day she chose to be part of her father's life, while everyone else chose to keep on hating him. After some not so gentle persuasion I sat underneath the tent out of respect for my brother and listened to my niece give a beautiful life sketch, but I wasn't encouraged to say anything so I kept quiet. I couldn't have expressed what was in my heart anyway when there were so many uncharitable feelings floating around, but God gave me the courage to speak to most everyone before leaving the cemetery.

That experience brought back with undiluted clarity what happened the day my mother died nearly twenty years earlier. I had gone over to her house after work knowing that all of my siblings were coming since she was in the final stage before succumbing to cancer. A different niece met me at the door. She was in tears because she had been there the entire day and no one had invited her to go into grandma's bedroom to say goodbye, not even her mother. I took her arm and moved her in front of me down the hallway. The room was full so we both stood at the foot of the bed for a few minutes. There wasn't time for either of us to say much because three of my sisters--the two who had been at my brother's service and my youngest one--told the rest of us to leave because mother needed some rest. 

Another sister and I followed our two brothers into the back yard. There we talked and paced for over three hours before we were told to come back. Mother was dead. She'd been cleaned up and was wearing one of her prettiest nightgowns, but we had been excluded from her final moments. I couldn't wrap my head around the cruel insensitivity, but it was far from being the first time. Sandon and I had only been allowed to see her for a few specified minutes each week since her diagnosis while our two sisters got to spent every day and night with her.

When I told mother that twenty minutes every Monday night while my one sister was gone wasn't time enough, she just told me that she was doing what her caregivers wanted. But she had a job for me. She wanted me to type all my grandmother's short stories and readings and put them in book form so all my siblings could have them. That was a monumental task since many of them were handwritten and some not even finished, but I did it in record time and had binders ready for everyone specified before her death. I wish I could say that my time with her increased after my pleading, but I can only recall one short conversation where we talked about  Sandon's accident. She said she didn't remember telling me it was my fault but she was in a state of shock and could very well have.

As I'm sure you can tell by now, the dynamics in our family were not healthy. As adults we children were not encouraged to talk to each other. Mother wanted to be the disseminator of information and decide who needed to know what. And since many of us were scared of her, and busy with our own lives, we didn't rock the proverbial boat. It was different then anyway because calling long distance was cost-prohibitive and most of us were too poor to take a trip to see anyone. But the sorrow I feel over not being part of a loving and connected family is very real.

I guess that's why these past few weeks are always so hard each year. It's starts with Mother's Day and knowing that my own mother may have loved me, but she didn't appear to like me and was not capable of showing strong positive emotion. My father was somewhat different from what I can remember. He was tall and thin--a real cowboy who loved riding his horse and announcing or clowning at rodeos. His hands were strong and his heart willing to support and care for his large family. But his grief over the accident where his own little son was so severely injured must have been almost impossible to bear.

How I envy families where the love is strong and siblings actually like spending time together. But I've had to accept that some things will have to wait until the next life to be resolved. I want to be with my family forever. I know it's possible but have no idea how it will happen since we can go years without contact in this life and no one seems to care. 

There's one plot left in that cemetery in Idaho where my parents, my brother and two brother-in-laws have been laid to rest. My two sisters will be placed beside their husbands when their missions in this life are over. Daddy purchased eight plots before my youngest sister was born, and I know he felt good about having a resting place for his wife and all his children. And while I've always been grateful to have a designated spot for my physical body when my spirit leaves it behind, I'm not sure that's where I want to be anymore. Regardless of the fact that it's already been paid for, two siblings spots have already been filled with someone else and my son says he wants me closer to where he is.

Not that it's really going to matter, except for knowing where my body is, but I do need to be making a few permanent decisions. That includes finishing my life history that is so painful to write only bits and pieces now exist. However, if I want my posterity to understand why I am more than a little messed up, but a true peacemaker at heart, I need to take that journey through my past one more time. Perhaps I will see things somewhat differently than I once did and my compassion and understanding will show through. 

I really want to rid myself of the anger, jealousy and judgment that has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I want to see others as God and my Savior do. There is a bit of divinity in even the vilest of sinners because they were created by Heavenly Parents who love without condition. I think I felt that way more yesterday than I have for some time as fathers were honored at church and I thought about how much I missed mine and how different my life may have been had he been allowed to live past my thirteenth birthday. But everything happens for a reason and we were not sent to earth to indulge every desire. We are here to learn, grow and develop into people who are prepared to return to their heavenly home.

And just so you know, I sent a Happy Father's Day text to the man I've been writing about. He didn't respond, but I decided that I would only be hurting myself if I didn't since I've sent one for the past four years. I don't know what's in his heart because he won't tell me. But maybe it's better that way. I'm trying to stay focused on the light, and he's a long away from doing that right now. More about that later, but it's time to get on with my day. Folding clothes and running errands await me.  

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