What IS Family?

What makes a family? Years ago when one of my favorite cousins married her husband, he had a grandfather who went by the moniker of “Happy.” I truly admired “Happy,” and one of frequent expressions that I remember to this day is “Your family is the only the only family God gives you so must find a way to get along.” That thought seemed to work well for HIS family, but it somehow never really made an impact on my family. Over the years, as I have trudged through the quagmire of clinical depression and anxiety (most of which my family cannot or will not understand), I have felt increasingly alienated from the brothers and sisters with whom I grew up. They all seem to move through life managing whatever troubles and stresses they have without therapy or medications in a way that is completely impossible for me. Moreover, they seem to judge me for my reliance on therapy and medication. Add to this delightful mix the unresolved conflicts from childhood that cognitive therapy frequently demands be addressed, despite the fact that my family believes that re-visiting the past is both stupid and pointless unless you are telling a story to embarrass someone, and I feel trapped in my misery.

At this stage of my life, my parents are dead (and my mother haunts my dreams enough to make me fear going to sleep some nights), my favorite aunt and my favorite cousin are both deceased (cancer), one of best friends is dead (heart virus) and I rarely see my siblings. My youngest brother barely talks to me unless he needs something. He and his wife never invite me to their kids’ events. My sister has hated me for decades for reasons I honestly do not understand, and she does not speak to me. My other brother and I have a cordial relationship, but I think that is only because he thinks he almost saw me die once. I do not think any of my siblings honestly like me, and any concern they have for me is based solely on the fact that I am an aunt to their children.

So, I look around and see my friends and neighbors sharing joyous time with families, and I realize my family is my husband and our pets. If my husband were to die tomorrow, my family would be the dogs and me. I am not wallowing in self-pity here, but experiencing a moment of clarity. I think my parents spent so much time cultivating an image of family they wanted people in the community to see that they forgot to cultivate a sense of family among us kids. Or perhaps, my parents had so many of their own demons (many of which they chose to reveal only to me as their oldest child) that they were incapable of really helping us kids bond with each other. Whatever happened, I can see that my siblings have a strong bond with each other that excludes me. They go on adventures together with their kids, and they take vacations together. On the rare occasions when I am invited to be around them, it is painfully obvious that I exist outside of their bond. At some point, I came to be related to them by blood but not by love or laughter. Does that mean it is time to move on?

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