Meeting My Family Again … For the First Time

sisters holding hands.403For the last three weeks I have been staying with family in New York City and the Philadelphia suburbs not far from where I grew up. Originally the decision was practical – waiting in the East Coast for my nephew’s wedding on my way home to California from Europe.

What I never could have guessed was how important this time would become to me.

I have gotten to know these people from a whole new perspective – that of the more sensitive, humbler person I have become since my daughter’s death. But then love for family was one of Teal’s highest values in life … so why should I be surprised?

A few years before her death, Teal brought our entire, sometimes fractured family together in celebration of my long-dead father’s 100th birthday. She never knew him nor did she know many of the relatives involved. But somehow Teal decided this was something she had to do, so she simply picked up the phone and made it happen.

It bothered her profoundly that our family wasn’t closer, that we had let the molehills of a dysfunctional family become small mountains. To Teal that was simply wasted love.

There was a snowstorm the weekend of the reunion she planned. Teal’s plane from Austin got cancelled, so she never made it to the party. But the rest of us managed to gather in Philadelphia from all over the East Coast and as far away as Kentucky and Ohio. The celebration was amazing as we found ties and connections even to relatives we hadn’t seen for thirty years.

The old stories got told, the memories shared, the glasses lifted. The inexorable bonds of family were alive and real once again and filled with love. But then as we retreated back to our lives, the importance of this deep connection got lost in the electronic deluge of the everyday.

The next time we gathered was, ironically, for Teal’s memorial two years later. This time we came together as people who were simply heartbroken. Now we genuinely needed each other. And so it has been ever since.

On this visit home, I found myself so much more able to just relax and be with everyone. The urgency to work my own agenda is gone now, as is my old bossy critic — the one who thought she knew just how everyone should do everything.

Including my poor family.

The old grudges dried up and disappeared, the easy triggers were not so easily triggered. Instead, for possibly the first time ever, I found I could actually listen and learn who these people actually are.

But this is the humility that comes with great suffering. If you pay attention it can actually make your life far happier in the long run.

I spent a particularly memorable few days staying with my oldest sister Lisa and her husband. Lisa left home for college when I was three, which meant two things in our family. She took care of me like a mother in those early years, and I never got to know her as well as my middle siblings.

On my visits in the past we never made time for anything more than a quick lunch. After which I’d go hurrying back to the home of my brother and his wife, the siblings I certainly know the best in adulthood and with whom I’ve spent the most time.

But now I have that opportunity to know Lisa far more deeply – as I have had with my middle sister Sarah. For more than a year, Sarah and I have gotten on the phone every week and just … talked. And those conversations have fed us in a unique and beautiful way.

It doesn’t matter that we live 2300 miles apart or that she’s a devout Episcopalian and I’m ‘Spiritual Not Religious’. Or even that she’s a practical thinker and I’m a wild creative spirit. Nor does it matter that Lisa is a dedicated lover of dogs, horses, and tennis, none of which I’m likely to have in my life.

What matters are those shared chromosomes of love – the fusing of our spirits in a furious world. Our differences are merely the stuff of great conversations – simple food to learn from. And are commonalities are points of pure joy.

The people who have always known you will never stop knowing you. And on some deep level they will never stop loving you.

No matter what.

Is there someone you might share this with today — someone you love but seldom spend time who knows you better than anyone else? Simply scroll up and click your preferred social media button above. Thanks!

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