Last night my family celebrated the eightieth birthday of my Aunt Natalie. Her son and daughter threw her a lovely party that gathered family from all corners of the tri-state area as well as greater distances from across the country. My aunt, is a lovely woman with kindness and compassion running through her veins and strength and resolve through her bones.
It’s always so nice to gather with the family and hear the latest “going-ons.” But every time we get together I am overwhelmed by stories which are riddled with undertones of inner struggle and torment; and despite years of trying to suppress these feelings they are now seeping out and disrupting the daily lives of family members.
In a previous blog post entitled, The Dentist, I wrote about my younger brother’s struggle with addiction. I wrote it, because a traumatic episode inspired me, but because the matter is private, I wrestled with actually posting it to my blog. In the end, I worked through my fear and I did post it – but not without consequence. From friends, I received tremendous support. From family however, the reviews were mixed. Some of the feedback was even harsh. But at last night’s party a few of my family members spent time with my younger brother. He later told me that they spoke to him about drug use. So like it or not, what my blog post had accomplished was to get our family talking about an issue which we all would rather sweep under the rug.
My brother is doing better now as he is getting his life in order. When I listen to him speak, I can hear improvement – he is growing, learning and evolving. He has wisdom and maturity beyond his years and insight that only struggle can teach. But, am I so naïve to think that he is clean? The answer to that question is no. But I do live in a place where I am cautiously optimistic, which is just one neighborhood away from denial.
But denial seems to run deep in my family. And when I looked around yesterday, I saw a room filled with it. Suppressed feelings have manifested into destructive behaviors as addiction has become a running trait that has hit multiple family members. Unresolved issues have severed relationships and family ties have unraveled. The love is all but dissipated and anger stands as a prevalent emotion that somehow threads us all together.
Growing up, our family seemed so tight and I always believed that there was nothing we wouldn’t do for one another. Through the years, life’s trials have tested that notion and the theory proved to be unsupported. A lack of family unity has worn away the bonds which I had always believed were stronger than they actually were. I am saddened by this, but I have not lost faith entirely.
Over the last year, old relationships have been rekindled under a new context. We enjoy each others company and most of us embrace sharing our lives with one another. I have even observed some of the younger cousins mentoring those younger than them. Our family wants to thrive. But there are wounds and they are deep and they are open. And until we each learn to heal ourselves we don’t have a chance of ever being a family.