Many people know that I recently celebrated Christmas with my birth family for the first time in ten years. A handful of friends have asked how it went, but I struggle with my response... Not sure what to say or how to say it. There are so many emotions, so many harsh realities, so many things wrong, and even one startling revelation. When I think about verbalizing our Christmas celebration, the story that comes to mind is not about that one night but about where everything stands. The words decorum and discretion fill my mind, as I ponder answering their questions completely... Reminding me that polite people want to hear how the evening went, but very few people want to hear where I think it might take us. I expect that people from relatively functional families will have their heads spinning as they hear the unsavory dynamics of my family. Every family has their issues, but issues like ours are kept quiet - they are still taboo dinner fodder. The issues faced by my family are made for Intervention or Celebrity Rehab or Dr. Phil - shows that people can watch and gasp at in private.
For those polite people who merely want to know about the evening... It was awkward, but nice. My mother was beaming, as she sat with her daughters and all of her grand kids for the first time ever. The cousins played together, just as I remember playing as a child with my cousins. The menu was simple, and the mood was relaxed. Conversations easily flowed as we discussed jobs, budding romances and mutual friends. I felt more connected to my sister and her kids than I had in many years. I enjoyed seeing the tiny boys that I loved so very much...that are now early teenagers. And I loved looking into the face of my niece and being reminded of the little sister that I once shared a bedroom and secrets about boys with.
There were also parts that were difficult for me. Seeing into my sister's life, and knowing some of the brokenness that holds her captive in challenging situations. Knowing that my nephews and niece have sad holes in their lives... My heart goes out to them - my sister, her kids, and my mom - and I yearn to make a difference in their lives. At the same time, I pull back to protect my own.
And I remember my extended family... Those who offered kind words of encouragement and spent time with me, yet made no move to help me in the ways that I really needed. To my knowledge, they never tried to give me a solid, loving home. I felt so abandoned. I frequently heard that my mother was doing "the best that she could". The older I got, the angrier that statement made me. My emotional response was to say that she failed miserably and could have done better. It wasn't until our family Christmas that those five words finally made sense to me. As my mother shared that she is bipolar, I understood that she actually had done the best she could without medication. In a new way, my heart goes out to my mother. I am grieved by all that she's lost to her mental illness. And by what it's cost my brother, sister and me. And my nephews and niece. And my children.
What do their futures hold? What is my role? How can I help? And how do I get convinced that helping them will not destroy me in the process?