Terms of Estrangement

(Originally posted April 5, 2013)

On Monday I’m going to see my aunt on my dad’s side, who I haven’t seen for almost 15 years.  My father and I didn’t get along for most of my life, and his siblings had a habit of trying to coerce me into re-establishing contact with him, which I did not appreciate.  I felt like they were imposing this culture of “respect your parents no matter what”, which they grew up with, but I did not.

Anyway, my father committed suicide 4 months ago, and I’m very sorry that it happened, but at the same time, I’m glad he isn’t suffering anymore.  That’s what you say about cancer patients, right?  But people with anxiety and depression suffer too, although I think much more in silence.  I think my father had untreated anxiety and depression his whole life, some of it due to being extremely poor as a child and being abandoned by his father, and probably a lot of it due to biochemistry.  My uncle (my dad’s younger brother) committed suicide sometime in the early ’90s so this wasn’t a huge surprise, even though it was kind of a shock.

So, I’m going to visit my aunt.  When I talked to her on the phone after I found out my dad died and how he died, she was incredibly compassionate.  She didn’t tell me that it was my fault because I wouldn’t reach out to him.  She was almost kind of apologizing for him, that he didn’t have a good role model for how to be a good person.  And I agree with her.  He did the best he could with what he had, he just didn’t have a lot.  I think of all the wonderful people in my life that I trust, who accept me for who I am, and he didn’t have that.

I’m bringing my kids to meet my aunt.  My kids know almost nothing about my dad or his family.  When I found out my dad died, I showed them his picture, but I didn’t mention how he’d been in prison or that I used to be afraid that he would hurt me or my mom.

I’m bringing my kids because I really do want them to meet their aunt and for her to get to meet them.  I’ve sent her a few photos over the last few months, but my kids are really super cute and funny, and I figure if there’s any residual resentment from my aunt, she’ll bend over backwards to hide it so she can see my kids again.  I’ve heard of people being really non-accepting of their daughter or son-in-law until a grandkid appears and they suddenly become much more flexible and amicable.  I’m counting on this being a similar situation.

My mother is also coming with us.  She seems as eager as I am to reconnect with my aunt.  It’s interesting to see how one person can be the focal point for many, many other relationships, and how they can make those relationships stronger or tear them apart.  My father’s death created space and an opportunity for healing.  I’m really grateful for that, and I’m going to allow myself to be vulnerable, take the risk that I may be judged or condemned.  I grew up feeling so alone, I want my kids to have as big of a family as I can create for them.

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