Of Extended Family and Endings
It could be that I am wrong putting these two things together, but my experience has taught me differently lately. My immediate family, husband and children, is the center of my life. My sisters and their families come a close second. I imagine it is the same for most of us, never mind our background. We also have extended families. They are important, they fulfill a role that is necessary in society, especially where I come from. That is what I always thought and how I always believed. Could it be that I was wrong? Let me tell you why.
When my sisters and I came to college in the States, our parents stayed behind. Of course, you would say. I am also sure you know that in those days traveling back and forth, calling home and keeping in touch, was very different from what it is today. Traveling, actually, was the easiest part. Now, calling home was another story. You needed hundreds of quarters, dimes etc, you needed to know the right operator for International Calls and you needed patience. Let’s not even mention keeping in touch. Letters would take more than a few days: write, then mail and deliver. Yes, I am that old!!!
Boston is not around the corner from Panama, but we managed. During those years, we visited our parents, our parents came to visit us and we spent many hours trying to conduct long distance conversations from a pay phone in our college dorms. It also happened that we all fell in love with boys we met there and going back home after college was not to be.
Of course, then, we didn’t stop to consider that our lives would be changed forever and going back and forth to Panama was not going to happened as we thought. That’s youth for you: we were happy, everything else took second place. We see that now, but our parents saw it then. Still, they never tried to change our minds or made us feel guilty about it. Their lives changed as well and in many ways not always for the better since their children were living far away and the grandchildren were not there for them to spoil and cuddle and love!!! .
We were busy with our lives, our families, but we visited them regularly……or they came to us. Life continued. Our children adored their grandparents, but had lives so different and so far removed from them. My parents grew older and my father passed away in 1984. He was younger than I am today!!! It was a wake up call and very difficult to accept. In the years that followed, my mother grew more and more attached to her family in Panama.
They took our places in her everyday life, but we never minded. We kept in touch, visited, took her on our vacation trips, she visited us. Those were happy times in many ways, but hard times too. Saying good-bye was harder and harder. We could see she was getting older and all those family times would become difficult to arrange. Our children went away to college, another step in the never-ending march of Time.
My mother’s life made her happy. Every time we visited she had a new project or she was moving to the beach house for the Summer. She kept active and was with people she loved. Her peace of mind and her happiness had no price. She was happy and that was enough for us.
Yes, she was happy helping everyone. Her family, even today, say how wonderful she was and how she took care of everything, no matter what. Then she had a massive stroke. No point talking about that since I have before. As she got progressively worse, we discovered that extended families are not always what we thought they were. Ideally, everyone should be able to talk and express their opinions without arguments. Resentments never solved anything.
Slowly, our extended family shrunk and this is what I mean by endings. What was is no longer and that tells me it was not real. With this ending came another realization: we do have some wonderful people in our family. Finally, we are left with the ones we love, the ones that were there for us. We have the time and the openness to get to know them again, to enjoy their company. As someone who loved her family, my mother would have understood.
My mother’s illness made us stronger. Her passing made us free of whatever attachments we thought we had. The peace of mind and serenity we now enjoy is priceless. Endings are a beginning and for that, we are grateful.