When I first started Thankful Thursday on my blog, I never gave thought to the fact that Thanksgiving is the ultimate Thankful Thursday. I did not write my post ahead of time, and I have just come back from a delightful day with my in-laws. Today I am thankful for my family – my family of origin, my family by marriage, and my family by choice.
Family of origin
I do not have a lot of contact with most of my family of origin. My mother’s parents died when I was a baby and toddler, and her siblings live scattered across the country. She was the youngest of 4, and is ten years or so younger than the oldest, who started her family early. My mother had me later in life. As a result, all of my cousins on her side are significantly older than I am. I believe the youngest is 13 years older.
My father’s family is the one I grew up sort of knowing. I remember visiting my great-grandmother, who lived until she was 95 and I was 10. Maybe a couple of times a year I visited with my grandparents and my father’s sister and her family. I always felt a little uncomfortable, but I think that was because my grandmother was a very proper lady, and I was a rough and tumble child. My father had a second sister, but I only met her twice that I can recall. She lived far away.
When I was 17, my family fell apart. My father died at the age of 46, then the next year, his father died, having lost hope in his battle with cancer and emphysema. The following year, his sister (my great-aunt) passed away, and the following year, my grandmother died of grief. The aunt that I grew up knowing faded out of my life, finding more and more reasons not to see me, or talk to me. I never understood why.
In the midst of all this death, I met my other aunt’s daughter, a cousin I had known about, but never knew. We barely had time to get to know each other before my divorce began. My ex lied to my entire family about the circumstances of our divorce, and they all shunned me. For 19 years, I have harbored anger and resentment about this.
Just over a week ago, I saw my cousin on Facebook. My other aunt (the one I knew) had ignored years of my happy birthday messages and friend requests, as had her daughters. I expected the same from this cousin. To my shock, she accepted my friend request almost immediately, and we began a conversation. My first message to her was incredibly lame. “I never expected you to answer me, now I don’t know what to say. Hi.” Really intelligent, I know. It did, however, start a conversation. I am not the person I was 19 years ago, and neither is she. She was delighted to hear from me. We both have felt cut off from our family, shunned for no apparent reason by the ones who share our DNA. I hope we can forge a new relationship and salvage some sense of extended family for each other.
I am so thankful today that relationships can be restored, and everyone else can grow just as much as I do.
Family by marriage
Seven years ago, I had no family to speak of. I was in a miserable marriage, and my then-husband had driven deep wedges between me and my mother. One brother I choose to have no contact with for my own safety and peace of mind, and my other brother is not very available (not by choice – he wishes desperately that he were). I was basically alone. The only family I had were my children, and I needed to support them, not the other way around. When I met my now-husband, his family greeted me with open arms.
The first time I met his siblings was at his niece’s baptism and first birthday. I got to meet not only his siblings and their spouses and children, but also his nonagenarian grandmother, an aunt and a cousin. They were all so welcoming, and in the post-service social time that followed the baptism, I saw that they all loved him dearly. They were all so happy to see him, and to meet me. It was so different from how my extended family treated me. I was so overcome that I had to go sit outside and cry. I was grateful that day for the rain to hide my tears.
Even though there were no divorces in his family (anywhere, ever, that I am aware of), they did not judge me. They included me in their conversations even though they were with all their own family, where it can be easy to overlook outsiders. They hugged me and made a place for me in their very close family.
I am ever grateful for my husband’s family.
Family by choice
Finally, I have a sister. Not by birth, adoption, or marriage. She is the sister of my soul. We have known each other since we were 16. She is my best friend, my soulmate, my children’s Auntie/godmother, and I am Auntie/godmother to her child. Through all the deaths and births, weddings and divorces, romances and miserable marriages, we have been together. If our relationship were a person, it would be old enough to graduate college this year. She has been the voice of caution to balance my impulsivity. The light of reason, kindness, and wisdom in my darkest days. And a teacher of some tough lessons.
The hardest lesson was when we “broke up” for about seven months once. My life was so painful and she was, I thought, my only guiding light. In my despair, I dragged her down, too. In order to save herself and her marriage, she cut me loose.
Now, some might say that that was a horrible thing to do, but really, it was what we both needed. She got the respite she needed, and the space to prioritize herself and repair the damage my drama had caused to her marriage. I learned how to stand on my own feet. It also taught my children a valuable lesson. They saw that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone else is to take care of yourself first. They also saw that no matter how ruined a relationship may seem, you can still make amends. When my children get into spats with their best friends and come home lamenting that their friend hates them, I can remind them that I went through the same thing, and we are back to best friends again now. We are closer than ever now.
I am so grateful for friends that are as close as family and love me at least as much as my family of origin does.
Do you have a relationship you thought was gone forever, but managed to repair? Please share your story in the comments.