Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Christmas Blues

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.
~Burton Hillis

I become rather philosophical in a bluesy way at Christmas time, just in case you have not noticed. I think it is in part because I have family...but not really. The only family members who actually talk to me regularly are my husband's mother and my mother's sister and her husband, now and then a cousin or two, my aunt's adult children. I have felt on the outs most of my life, not even fitting in with my own family. Then, we are small in number. My father was an only child. My mother had one sister. My husband family has a similar situation in that husband's mother was an only child and his father had one sister.

When I lived in Florida, we spent some part of the holidays with my husband's family as my family is in Ohio. I was sad every Christmas season. I was sad because of the things that led up to my mother not talking to me for years...five actually. From the time my daughter was one until she was six. She finally called me (without hanging up on me) and we resumed having the type of one-sided conversations that made her comfortable and happy. As long as I did not talk, we could talk.

I forgave my father of the past and although the harm he did was far worse, it was easier in a way because it ended and he was no longer in my life. My mother, however, was an ongoing exercise in forgiveness of numerous things with which I struggled all my life until her death about three years ago.

My mother had been the center holding all the family strings. The connections I had with my sisters and my half-brother were mostly through her. My mother had some control issues, particularly with me. She would tell me she did nothing to hurt the relationships I had with my siblings, but somehow they always knew her side of the story in how I treated her badly and yet they knew only what my mother was willing to tell them. She would tell people I always brought up the past and there was a time that was true as I was often cut picking up the lasting shards of emotions from that past. However, at some point about twenty years ago when I was healing of it, I stopped. I had no need to talk about the past after the healing and forgiving, but I was still accused of doing so. At that point, I knew how to deal with my past whenever I stumbled onto a remaining shard, but the present was another issue. I was trying to find peace in it among people obviously still broken and being cut with their own shards of the past.

I wish I had recorded our phone conversations because no one believed me that it was my mother who brought up the past, not me. I found out, through my aunt, that my mother had told people we had the best conversation was one in which I did not talk! So whenever she called I let her talk and I stayed silent about my own thoughts, my own hopes, my own fears...while she rattled on about hers for hours sometimes. I once counted that I spoke five whole sentences not counting the "hello" and "good-bye" and the occasional "oh" and "uh-huh" just so she knew I was still there on the phone. Actually, four of those sentences were questions and one sentence was to answer her question. As I began the second sentence, still in answer to the question, she interrupted me and talked another 20 minutes non-stop before asking if I was still there, so I guess she did not really want to know the answer. It became a game for me to say as little as possible and try to only ask her questions about what interested her--not to be mean, but for me to endure being a sounding board only. I could not help her so I tried to make her as comfortable as possible. She was still a hurt, broken woman carrying so much guilt and I seemed to bring the memories of her burdens back to her anytime she talked to me, even though I said nothing to cause it.

I think my mother made me the monster of the family to my siblings, just as she made her sister the monster to me. My aunt was always used as the measuring stick that things could be worse for me if I lived with my aunt. "I could send you to your aunt's and then you would learn how easy you have it here. You would find out what work really is there." My aunt did organize and her family did lots of hard work, but I did end up living with her for two years during high school and I loved it! I found out I was not lazy after all, as my mother often called me, I was just not well directed.

I have reached out to my brother and sisters over the years, less more recently. I helped each one of them financially in the past. There was a time it got to the place that seemed to be expected and may have been the only reason I was called, so my husband asked me to stop it. One sister would not accept my phone calls and, whether intentionally or not, she did not talk to me for twelve years after I told her I would not be giving her money to help with her bills one winter.

Not once have I been given assistance when I really could have used it or even just a sympathetic ear. I am not upset with them. I do not expect them to give me anything. I am sorry for them because it seems that they have not even considered offering anything just because I am their sister, as I offered them just because I am their sister.

There are also other big differences that did not help in us having common threads. Although one sister is just three years younger than I am, my youngest sister is eleven years younger than I and my half-brother is eleven years younger than she (twenty-two younger than I). The younger two grew up very differently than the older two. We just feel we do not have much in common.

This year I have decided to allow myself to grieve about my siblings. You see, I still secretly hoped that after our mother past away that we might connect as we had not done in the past. When I have reached out to them over the years, it was not mutual. I am going to be crying for the little sister who used to look up to me with her blue eyes and sweet smile in the blue butterfly skirt I made for her--she has grown up and has two teenagers. I will remember the day my mother with postpartum depression begged me to come to the hospital and I stayed with her for hours (while I had been dealing with a terrible long-term depression of my own); I will mourn at the memory of being the first in the family to hold my baby half-brother--he is now married with two children, last I knew. My other sister once told me that she blamed me for not protecting her from our father and I will be in tears thinking of the times she never knew that I did--she has a teenage daughter.

I know the steps I must take. I have done this before, but not about them. I held on to this hope that has been hurting me for years that we will connect and being reminded, as I address Christmas cards, that another year has past without change. I will keep the door open, ready to accept them with a healthier expectation that will allow them to be comfortable, like I did with Mom, because it will not disappoint or hurt me anymore. My expectation for us to be like a family will be gone. This will be the last year I will have my Christmas blues over the family of my youth that I never had, over nieces and nephews I will not know.

After I have gone through this grieving, I will be able to truly enjoy the presence of my family all wrapped up in each other, without that feeling that something is missing. That is the gift I am giving to myself, my husband, and my daughter this year.

After I had written this post out, but had not yet posted it, my youngest sister called me on Christmas Eve. I had sent all my contact information in the Christmas card I sent leaving that door open. During the conversation I found out that while she had talked to our brother and other sister more recently than she had with me, it was still months ago.

My brother has two young girls but is divorcing his wife and is involved with another woman who has children also. The sister closest to me in age left her husband and teenage daughter a few years back and had been living with another man, but it is unknown if she is divorced yet. My youngest sister accepted the Lord into her heart just eighteen months ago, truly good news to me!

~ My Lord, thank you for urging my sister to call me and tell me she has chosen to accept You as her Lord. I still need to grieve what was lost, what never has been, and probably will not be. Each year I have more distractions with my own family, but I have held on to this pain. I am ready to let it go now and give more of myself to my husband and daughter...and to You, my Lord. ~


  1. Seeking: this is not a journey you are alone on ~ as I know you know. It's a can of worms I can't open up in my own family because no~one is capable of accepting that their reality is not mine. Some of the names I have been called defy belief ~ yet they deny that they are in any way wrong. Families are weird. That any of them work at any level is one of God's little miricales.

  2. That others also deal with such things in many families is the main reasons I felt compelled to publish this post.

    More to come...


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.