“Build It and They Will Come.”
Some families are created from the top down, others from the inside out. Ours was both.
Years ago I wrote about the devastating loss of our family–set into motion when the matriarch, my grandmother, was killed in a tragic car accident; and receiving its final blow when my parents’ marriage disintegrated and they fell into relationships that didn’t honor the “whole.”
My seven siblings and I found ourselves in a no-man’s land, without parents, without a “family” home, without the ties that once defined and held us in place.Those were painful years of neglect, but over time we began to rebuild our family–from the inside out.
For years, we had been forced into separation--no more clearly illuminated than the day I collected my younger siblings from their separate homes for a rare afternoon together at my apartment. Three-year old April asked 8 year-old Lauren if she could sleep over her house.
“No that wouldn’t work,” Lauren answered with the worn-out resignation of one much older. She didn’t even need to ask my stepmother and father, she just knew that they would never allow these new half-siblings in their home. Three-year old April also “knew” not to question the response and never to ask again.
My stepmother had repeatedly questioned why I needed to bring the kids together at all, and she made it almost impossible to do so. She emphasized that they were only “half” siblings, while I emphasized that we were once a “whole” family.
Ten years later, we claimed that “wholeness” as we publicly stood as “one” at our mother’s funeral. My “half” brother Danny and I both spoke, while my “half” sister April and two more sisters offered a reading, while others sisters danced or sang or prayed.
“That was the best funeral that I’ve ever attended,” my father said of his ex-wife’s service. “It was better than most weddings.”
Surprising us all, our estranged father cried openly through the funeral requiring my stepmother to hand him a steady supply of tissues. Looking back, that was the beginning of his attraction to what we had created without him.
That Christmas, on my mother’s birthday, we received unexpected presents in the mail. What made these gifts extra special was that they came from one of my stepmother’s closest friends–who in a act of great kindness and good will–included all of us in the gifting–even the half-siblings that my father and stepmother had rejected. Each year, I unwrap that glass candle snifter from it’s crimson bag and remember the healing and promise it gave.
Three years later, when my nephew graduated from highschool, my father surprised us again by flying down with our stepmom to join us–even after my sister clearly explained that our “half-siblings” would be a part of every gathering that took place.
Things went seamlessly well, until the last evening, on the occasion of my brother Danny’s birthday, when my father had too much to drink. There were words and explosions and much, much grief.
My father didn’t talk to me for over a year after that which was a grievous loss of something newly gained, but I sustained myself in the strength of know that I had defined a line which he was never to cross again. “We are a family,” I told him, “It’s not our fault what happened between you and Mom.”
We siblings hobbled along in the absence of our shared mother and in the absence of a unifying father, for years, but we were blessed again when my step-grandmother moved back “home” and welcomed us–ALL–into her home. Nana Judi offered us a place to gather around the table even when that table included her stepson (my father) and her good friend (my stepmother.)
Soon after, my sister and her husband also moved back “home” and built a house that would accommodate us all. Now we could stay together on holidays and weekends without much ado.
Friday evening was our first family wedding since our mother’s passing ten years ago this summer. Her namesake was the one to be wed, and each of us was in the wedding party, without question.
Photos did not discriminate between my father’s and my stepfather’s children and neither did tables or smiles or hugs.
Even my stepmother was gracious and kind, as was my father when presented with my stepfather’s hand.
Our love, the love of siblings, was infectious, and quite attracting. For so many years we did acrobatics for my father’s attention and approval, but now it was he, who was drawn to us, like a bee to sweet nectar.
As my sister and her fiance spoke their vows, it didn’t matter whether my dad and stepmom approved or didn’t approve. It didn’t matter that my father almost missed the rehearsal or that my stepmother didn’t order the best wine. What prevailed was the enduring quality of devotion and love–
that we had created
Kelly Salasin, August 22, 2010