Monday, April 25, 2005

Letting Go

If nothing else, I took with me one important lesson from this trip home:

Oftentimes it's good to be able to just let go.

My family is surprisingly in tune with my feelings about end-of-life issues. Where I would have thought my parents were all about heroic lifesaving measures, I came to learn that several family members signed off on a DNR order for my grandmother, ensuring that no extraordinary measures would be taken on her behalf if she, for example, stopped breathing. My family, thankfully, understands that eventually each of our times will come, and it prolongs suffering to fight it. Sometimes letting go is the more humane way to go.


My uncle (I'll call him Tim) happened to also be visiting during the same week as me. Neither I nor almost any of the cousins in my generation really liked Uncle Tim while we were growing up. In fact, we all pretty much uniformly despised him. I particularly disliked him for ages, for a variety of reasons.

Uncle Tim has an unfortunate history relating to decades of cigarette smoking. A bout with lung cancer has caused tremendous weight loss; he now also has a heightened awareness of his health and diet. His sixth-grade son is probably spoiled and smothered to death as a result, because the poor child had to witness the near-death of his father, and then (I'm told) caught his father relapsing with a cigarette, causing him to effectively freak out.

When I first saw Uncle Tim during this trip, he greeted me by giving me a hug.

Our family was never a particularly touchy-feely one while I was growing up. While I understand there's a deep love there, we usually never made any effort to say so, physically or verbally -- we usually proved our love by actions. Lately hugging female family members (my mom and aunts) and younger male family members (my cousins) is more common now, older men generally haven't succumbed to the hug fad. So Uncle Tim's hug caught me off guard.

There probably was a time less than a decade ago when I would have actively retreated from this gesture. There was a time when my disdain for Uncle Tim was so strong that when I heard that he might crash at my parents' house -- where I too was crashing -- I opted instead for a cheap hotel.

This time I just hugged him, and permitted all the sins of the past to wash away. Holding on to the grudge was taking up too much of my mental energy.


My mother doesn't understand this concept. She hasn't spoken to my Uncle Randy for the better part of 20 years. Some small tiff two decades ago has grown so wide that she will not invite him to any family events that she hosts, nor will she speak to him if he appears at a function hosted by someone else.

This saddens me.

But in her obstinance, my mother provides me a wonderful role model: Whenever I find myself acting like her in this respect, I make a conscious effort to do exactly what I know she wouldn't.

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