Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Family and fences

Tonight I went out to dinner with my cousin on my mother's side. She lost her mom, my Aunt Peggy, not long before I lost my mom. 

Cousin Jackie was amazing to my mom when mom was dying. She sent her a card daily for a very long time. Her cards were funny and chatty and just what my mom needed.

Mom always commented that one of the greatest joys at the end of her life was her relationship with her niece. Because she didn't have one for most of her life.

The Powers Girls
My mom and her siblings had drifted into two sides early on. One side was closer to my grandmother; the other to my grandfather. Jackie's mom and my mom were on opposite sides of this game for most of their adult lives. Disagreements between the siblings—and later their spousesescalated hard feelings and the lines were drawn.

That affected not only the siblings relationships with each other, but their kids relationships with their cousins. Typical family stuff. But I remained loyal to the sides my parents had chosen and that was that.

My relationship with my aunt Peggy's kids started to open up more as we aged but was far from anything resembling friendship. Until recently.

My mom and Peggy (along with their sister, Muriel) started to find middle ground later in life. I was so happy for that since I didn't want my mom to end her life with regrets.

As the sisters passed away, their kids were left with the realization that we never had a chance to be friends. 

My cousin Jackie and I bonded as my mom failed. I found that I had a connection with her that was meaningful and helpful. She had lost her mom a couple of years before and knew what I was going through. I found a great comfort in our shared DNA even though we did not have shared childhoods. 

We met for dinner tonight. Something we swore we would do more often. We found ourselves sharing the good and the bad of our pasts, breaking down the walls of a family feud where negatives were hidden and only positives were played. 

I felt myself freed from the constraints of family secrets. I could be honest and not feel that I was obligated to keep up a facade created by years of defensive posturing. And to prove what? That one side of the family was right and the other wrong?

Right, wrong. Better, best. All to prove one is loved more than another. 

Tonight I felt that Jackie and I took decades worth of fences our parents built and continued the work our mothers started several years ago. Our moms mended those fences; their daughters ripped them out of the ground, threw them on a pile, and lit them on fire. 

These fences were never ours yet they kept us apart for so long. Tonight I learned that the only baggage I should carry is my own. 

As I drove away from the restaurant I felt like I had peeled off all the layers of side-choosing that my mom lived with for years. Layers that weighed me down and kept me from being honest. What a gift to find a friend who was there all along. A friend who had to carry the hurt of her parents for fear of being disloyal. Just like me.