Death is Never Ordinary

Each of us throughout our lives will lose to death a friend or family member. Death is inevitable. The old axiom that no one gets out of life alive is the absolute truth of the situation. From the very moment we are born we are racing towards our death. Not the best visual, I know, but still true. Yet, even knowing that death is an inevitability we are often caught by surprise. Some folks have a long life, and others are taken much too soon.

poem-of-lifeMy family recently lost a member, my cousin. He was much too young (only 55), and his loss was unexpected. He was my cousin, but also one of my best friends. We did not live in the same state, did not get to see each other very often face-to-face but we talked at least once a week for the last 35+ years on the phone, text, instant messenger or Facebook.  I remember reading a long time ago that a cousin was God’s promise that you would have a friend for life. R has always been the embodiment of that promise. He has always been the best friend a person could have. He was funny, cheerful, loving, irreverent, bawdy, loud, and persistent. God, he was so easy to love.

Oddly, we were not “born” into the same family. I met R while I was a teen, when my aunt married his Dad. I am pretty sure that R never met a person he could not get along with. It always amazed me how he could pull the most reticent person into a conversation and get them to laugh. The most outrageous things would come out of his mouth at times. He told me once that since we were “step-cousin-in-laws” that it was ok to flirt and be bawdy around me. I remember laughing until tears streamed down my face. Like he needed a reason to flirt? Be bawdy? Not ever! Not sure he had any filters – but he was never mean. From the day we met we were family.

tucked-safelyI remember when R was getting ready to propose to his wife, he was so excited. He was so proud on his wedding day. Then the kids started coming along, and with each one that excitement and pride grew in him. R was definitely a family man. And he loved to brag about his kids. Every achievement was proudly proclaimed. I loved listening to him spout off about how wonderful his kids were. Family for R was pretty broadly defined, eventually everyone he met became part of his extended family.

Often very early on a weekend morning, I would login to Facebook and R would be online. He would send me a message “Good Morning Beautiful, what are you doing up this early?”… Which is funny when you consider that my time zone was three hours ahead of his. Did he ever sleep? R and I would talk about everything and nothing at all. His family, mine and our extended family. I read one of the posts in Facebook after his death that said R was the family historian. I find that insightful. He always knew everything going on. A one stop fount of information. I think he had this information because he genuinely cared, and would ask the right questions. I know he always asked about my kids/husband questions that showed he listened to previous conversations and that he was genuinely interested. He will be genuinely missed.

Death hittimelimits hard.  I find myself lost in thoughts about this wonderful man who was taken from us much too soon. I reach for my phone early in the morning to see if he is online so I can tell him some silly story or another. I have lost others, my grandparents, a son, and a few friends to war. So, I know that this dark time will slowly fill with light again.  It just takes time. Even more than 10 years later I still occasionally reach for the phone to call my grandfather to ask his advice or share something special in my life.  Life goes on, and we keep living, sometimes one breath at a time. So, R, my cousin, my friend, I love you and will miss you until the time we meet again, Rest in Peace.

Ordinary Blended Family

A blended family today appears almost common place. Many people are eschewing marriage altogether while raising children. While other men and women marry and divorce several times, treating marriage as a temporary or disposable commodity. Men and women trading spouses at (to me) an alarming rate. The concept of yours, mine, and ours is very easy to find now. The first time I remember even knowing about blended families bradybunchwas in the 1969-1974 family comedy series The Brady Bunch. Two widowed parents fell in love, got married, and blended their three children apiece into one big happy family.  While plenty of hijinks ensued for the Brady’s blended family, the overall cohesiveness was solid. If only it was that easy to blend two different families under one roof.

Blending two families together takes work. According to Parents Magazine it can take between two to five years for a blended family to establish. From my own experiences, if certain people in that blend do not wish to do the work the concept falls apart. A long time ago, on a planet far, far way this ordinary lady participated in a blending family experiment. Mom with her three children meets/marries man with his three children. They all move in together and live happily ever after. NOT! I really wanted the Brady Bunch experience but instead I think we got the Addam’s Family. Although come to think of it, I believe the Addam’s Family got along rather well. Hmmm the Bates family did not have enough children, so I cannot think of a really good comparison.addamsfamily

Not so surprising, most of our blending issues came from the kid’s side.  I was excited at first, I was going to have sisters. I have two younger brothers, so sisters would be a fun experience. The boys were both sort of indifferent about gaining new sisters. The oldest about 12/13 was in his own little world, and the youngest only about four could care less as long as he had food.  Age wise two of our new sisters were older than me and one is about 15 days younger. For the sake of anonymity, I will call the new sisters, Bitchy, Clueless, and Judgmental. Pretty sure the new sisters were not excited about adding siblings, step or otherwise to their family.

Bitchy, the oldest, pretty much hated everyone. She never made any effort to get to know me or my siblings. We were completely beneath her notice. In fact, I believe that the only time she ever spoke to me while we were all living under the same roof was to make rude or cutting remarks. Nothing has changed in the last 33 years, she still only talks to me to snarl something rude. Bitchy and Judgmental both played (and still play) a good game to mom, friendly and sweet. Note that behind moms back the things both said/say about mom are not repeatable in a polite audience. Oddly, I love Bitchy’s husband. He is a sweetheart who is way too good for her.  Heh, no accounting for his taste in wives. Bitchy has two children. Both follow their mother’s lead and either avoid me completely or give me dirty looks when she is around.

Clueless, the middle step, was completely a follower. She would do or say whatever her siblings told her to do or say. She really did not have any actual malice in her (and still does not) but she needed their approval. I believe that had she any backbone of her own back then that we could have become friends. I am sad that we never had this opportunity. When clueless finally moved out from under the cloud cover Bitchy created, we lived so far apart it would have been very difficult to bridge that gap. I feel a bit sorry for Clueless, 33 years later she has finally getting a clue (and her own life – go Clueless!) and because of it she is learning all about rejection from her siblings. A new and not very endearing emotion to drag through. A process I am intimately familiar with from that side of the family. Clueless married and has two beautiful boys, who every time I have met them have been polite to me, more than I expected.

Judgmental was the most difficult of the three to live with back then. She was only about 15 days younger than me, which meant we went to the same school. Shared some classes, and knew the same people. Let me paint of picture of Judgmental from high school, she is tall (about 5’11”), chocolate-brown hair, green eyes, and a skinny size 0 to 4 sort of crowd person. Very involved in her “cliques”. I am a couple inches shorter at 5’7”, red hair, brown eyes, and Rubenesque, size 12 – 13 size person (back then a bit more Rubenesque now). Therefore, I was fat, ugly, worthless, unfashionable…. The hits never stopped. Nothing I did or could ever do was good enough for her and since we shared a room I was never allowed to forget it. Judgmental’s favorite pastime was to cut me down in front of her friends and mine. At 16 this is devastating to a young woman, and I suffered for years with self-doubt. Even today I have a real issue with negative body-image because I can still hear her sniping and put downs.scales

My self-esteem took a huge battering thanks to Bitchy, Clueless, and Judgmental. The scales would could not balance in my favor. In a very short amount of time I went from looking forward to new sisters to looking for a way to get out of the house, permanently. Which I did at 18 by joining the Army. Today, 33 years later I have at best a very superficial relationship with these three. We see each other maybe once every five years at some family gathering, and only two of them are friends on Facebook (Bitchy never sent or accepted a request). Not that I really pay that much attention to either Clueless or Judgmental’s social media, but at least it is something.

The hardest part in this blending experience was that I felt like I had lost my motheryoursmineours completely. As a teenage girl, our relationship was already rocky, but at least we had one and I knew I could lean on it if I needed to. Early in the blending process that was gone completely. I became a second class citizen in my own mother’s life. Mom spent so much time sucking up to the new children there was little room for me or the boys. We felt that loss deeply. Each of us escaping in our own ways as soon as we could. My relationship with mom is still deeply scarred. I doubt I will ever feel that I can confide in her or lean on her in hard times. I love her, but she does not hold the place of importance in my life that I see in other mother daughter relationships. This makes me very sad. The Brady Bunch we are not.

The one bright spot in the blending experience – DAD! This man, who married mom loves all six of us equally. He never made me feel like I did not belong in his life. He is the treasure that I cling to in our blended family. He adopted me and my brothers very early on and as far as he is concerned we are his.  So he was blind to the drama in our home, no one is perfect. Pretty sure it would surprise him to know his girls are not the best of friends, and never have been. If not for this man, I am pretty sure there would be no relationship left between me and mom – he brings us together.  Oblivious, truly but loving, that is my dad.

secretformulaAs near as I can tell there is no secret formula for blending two families together. I have found no shortage of data on the subject but no real answers. Our family failed miserably from my view-point. We still feel like two families who are tossed together constantly but do not really like each other. We have very little communication in our little blended experiment, and what we do have is broken. That does not mean the successful blending of two families is impossible; so if you are trying to blend a family this ordinary lady wishes you the best of luck!