I’m thinking of a 1st birthday party, of Winnie-The-Pooh hats and balloons and cake. I’m thinking of my father with his hulking video camera perched on his shoulder, of the dry laugh of my aunt, the blond baby in his high chair, his cheeks smeared with cake. I’m thinking of the twenty-one years that passed in the baby, then boy, then man’s life. My cousin’s oldest son, brain cancer. His funeral is tomorrow.
I’m thinking of family who I have not seen in a decade, some longer. I’m thinking of the spans of life that have happened for me, for them, in these years that we have lived as strangers. I bumped into my aunt in the clothing racks at the mall, seven years ago. I saw a man who looked like my cousin at the waiting room of a doctor’s office, but I was bogged down with four children and not certain enough if he would even remember me if I asked (when they called his name, it was him.)
I’m thinking how odd that familial ties are like connective tissue, even after a decade of avoidance and indifference and squabbles that I do not understand. I cannot be free of where I am from, the lives I am distantly now connected to, the people who have shaped me without even knowing the me I have become.
I’m wondering if my cousin will be there, if he will be allowed to see his child one last time before he is laid to rest. I’m wondering if the same bitterness that refused him a final goodbye, that omitted his name from the obituary, will grant him this one act of compassion.
I’m thinking that we are our history, our family, and in pretending otherwise, we are freely giving away years of simple, good things. Because that’s what family is, a tapestry of the small moments that create the beautiful picture of a life. It’s crock pot potlucks and holiday meals on paper plates when the room is too full for us all to sit at the same table. A family is shared laughter and memories, and yes, it’s shared aggravations and disappointments. It is shared pain – but the emphasis should be on the shared, not the pain.
I am going to the services this week, because all this history between my father and his siblings, all this deafening silence, these years lost – is foolishness, every unspoken word. And I want to believe that at moments like these, at the casket of one of our own, the quiet years disappear and we might remember the backyard barbeques, the potato cannons, the Christmases and Thanksgivings, the laughter around a baby boy smashing cake into his messy mouth.