My aunt passed away last week and I feel nothing but emptiness and void. My mother and her sisters had a falling over thirty years ago, when I was a small child. My mother refuses to see another side of the events of that night other than hers. She steadfastly holds onto her position as if it's the air she breathes, the cables holding her over the cliff, and if she let go, she would fall into the abyss.
For three decades my mother hasn't spoken to her sisters and now that one is gone, it's too late. For me, that means that I didn't grow up knowing my aunt or my cousins. A few years ago, a friend told me that I had every right to develop that relationship irrespective of my mother's anger and unrelenting obstinacy. So about two months ago, I had Sunday morning breakfast with my surviving aunt. Sitting in her kitchen we caught up on a lifetime of events by sharing memories, birthdays, weddings and stories of our lives. She showed me endless albums of her children – my cousins – their families, grandchildren, friends. People I should have known and loved, but who were complete strangers.
I realized that I was never really a 'cousin' to anyoneAs I sat with her at her kitchen table, I realized that I was never really a 'cousin' to anyone. This thought saddened me but gave me hope that one day, through my new relationship with my aunt – I would wear that hat.
The message I heard growing up was: nothing is absolute, if you hurt me, you deserve my silence and my wrath. Family means nothing, helping a sibling because 'he's your brother' or 'she's your sister' holds no weight and is absolutely meaningless. To say hurtful words to a sibling was completely the norm when I was younger. There was no support, acceptance or even caring. We were constantly testing each other and cared only until the next time one hurt the other. Then the whole relationship was out the window. 'You hurt me', went the logic 'I can never trust you again', 'I can never be nice to you again because you said (or did) something hurtful to me.' There was no understanding, no allowance for the rest of the relationship, no crossing the bridge to make things better or work things out. It was all or nothing. Life was one big game of walking on eggshells. This was my first lesson in interpersonal relationships.
I woke up this morning and thought to myself that, after my aunt's passing, I should feel sad and mournful but I don't. It's like she was someone else's aunt, not really mine. I'm sad for 'her loss' but there was no loss in my life. All I feel is that I missed out. All I could do is cry for the void and for what could have been and all those what if's.
With all the passive aggressive behavior in my family, I found out about her passing and the funeral details too late so I was unable to attend. My mother actually went to the funeral. She even had a hand in the preparations of her sister's burial, but has pretty much given up hope on recovering the relationship with her sole surviving sister. As she shared during the week of mourning, "Let the kids do what they want, we're out of the picture". It seems to me that she doesn't realize the gravity of her actions nor her tremendous potential to create a better tomorrow.
The fight between my mom and her sisters fractured our immediate family unitWhat makes it worse, is that the fight between my mom and her sisters fractured our immediate family unit. Even as adults we only come together once in a really long while for a wedding. There is no openness between my siblings, no support, no love, no warmth. They are there to nitpick, criticize, point fingers, blame – without taking any responsibility – all in the name of 'family.'
We grew up in an environment where everything was up for grabs, nothing was sacred, there were no absolutes – not family – not G‑d. A person was supposed to act based on their mood, irrespective of how it impacted or affected another. If you hurt me, I'll never talk to you again. There was and is no possibility of reconciliation or forgiveness.
In my growth, I came to realize that I was raised co-dependent – after years of sifting through the darkness I cannot help but pity their lack of emotional insight, courage and strength to move forward. I've also come to make peace with the glaring double standard I live with each day. When I reached out to my siblings to make a difference and to choose a better life, it's sad to say, my pleas were mostly ignored. And those that didn't ignore me pointed fingers, berated, degraded and otherwise transferred their stuck-ness to me. Yet, in a time of death, G‑d forbid, they all reach out to another, fly in to pay a shiva call, emails go flying. It's incredible to me that nothing is done to make a difference in the life of someone because it requires a change of daily habits and a shift in comfort zone, but in death, after it's 'too late' – we go to the ends of the worlds.
Meanwhile I have found and cherish the surrogate family that I have in my life. I have friends that have become my sisters and brothers – those friends that I can share my true feelings, true fears and just to talk through something to find a healthy way through it.
In my growth I've learned how powerful it is to look at an issue from the other person's side – I remember the first time I heard this – I couldn't even understand that concept.
In my growth, I've also learned that I cannot change the world and I cannot change another person – what I can change is myself. As Hillel says "if I am not for myself – who am I" – G‑d created me in this reality and with that, gave me the power, strength, fortitude and knowledge to change.
So how do I move on?
So how do I move on? This is a question I've asked myself so many times. My only answer is to resolve to implement changes in my life and choose differently for my own life and, G‑d willing, my future family. Maybe just maybe one day soon, truth will prevail and the negativity, toxicity and dysfunction will melt in presence of that truth, quiet and still, yet that much more powerful.
It has taken years to reach a quiet acceptance and understanding of who I am and what I've become. No big bang, no parties, no fireworks, no press conference. It's in those quiet moments that the real healing takes place. It's in the 'aha' moments that I don't see until much later that life can truly transform and hopefully I get to hold onto that 'aha' moment around long enough for it to make a real difference in my actions today, tomorrow and my tomorrows after that.