A couple of years ago, I received word via roundabout means that someone I used to know had died. This was a person who had hurt me very much, with deliberate choices that had left me homeless and even more suicidally depressed than I already was during one of the worst times of my life. All of this had occurred before I became a Christian.
This now-dead person was “family” according to the popular definition of the word: Someone who is, either by blood or marriage, “related.”
Kin. Tribe. Clan.
I come from a prolific and wide-ranging strain of fast-breeding Irish Catholics, and so there’s no shortage of people in this country who share a bloodline with me. Many who would be classed as “immediate” relatives, even before you get into cousins, second cousins, and so on. I have full siblings. Nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles.
I no longer speak to any of them, and have not for years.
I’m often harangued by Christian friends and acquaintances about the fact that I’m not in touch with any of my relations. It’s such a foreign concept to them that a few people have taken me out to lunch for the specific purpose of grilling me about why I’ve turned my back on my faaaaaamily.
“Faaaaaamily is the most important thing!”
“You should never cut your faaaaaamily out of your life!”
“But they’re your faaaaaamily!”
I’d like to say I have no idea what that’s like, to actually have close and loving relationships with people who share your blood. Unfortunately, I grew up seeing just enough “normal” families around me (and of course in popular media) to know exactly what I was missing out on, so in fact I do have an idea of what it’s like. It’s just something that’s been denied me.
Sometimes I imagine it’s like being born with a very specific disability, like deafness or blindness or absent limbs, where you’re aware your entire life that you’re missing something fundamental which almost everyone else in the universe has. You learn to get by without it, even embrace it, and take pride in it, because for you, it’s normal.
Still, no matter how well-adjusted and expertly-raised with supportive care and strong community ties, a person lacking something like that is gonna have a moment. They may never admit it out loud, because that would go against the narrative of the “superhuman differently-abled person who is SO STRONG AND SO BRAVE” etc. But I still believe that they’re going to have at least one moment, somewhere in their lives, however fleeting, where they think or say “I’ll never see a sunset / hear a symphony / hold another person with arms of flesh and blood” and resent that fact.
I’ve had many of those moments in my life, because I’m the first to admit that I was neither expertly-raised nor well-adjusted. But instead of missing one of the five senses or a pair of hands, I’m missing a sense of family. This seemingly-universal possession that other people enjoy which gives them a concept of belonging, of security, of knowing that even if they screw up big time, faaaaaamily will be there to help them through it. Other humans have this; I don’t.
Getting back to the deceased person, I found out about the death relatively soon after it had occurred. By this time I’d been a born-again Christian for several years, and was having some conflict about how to deal with the feels, and so I texted a friend asking for prayers about it. This friend, a mature Christian lady whom I’ve always looked up to, was ADAMANT that I should go to the funeral. Here’s our text message exchange after I told her what had happened:
You can quietly do the right thing as unto the Lord.
& of course, sign the register
I apparently dropped the subject at that point. This particular friend of mine:
- Is VERY dear to me as a mentor and sister in Christ.
- Can quote Scripture with the best of any preacher.
- Has a SHOCKINGLY poor memory outside of Bible verses.
- Picks and chooses which passages to apply in life just like everybody else in the world.
- Has interrogated me many times on the subject of “family” because she simply can. Not. Understand why I don’t talk to them.
So she just wasn’t going to hear me no matter what I said about this. Like so many others, her concept of faaaaaamily is so entrenched that she couldn’t comprehend not going to the funeral of someone you’re related to. Even when I spelled it out in the simplest possible terms: My presence would not have been welcome. As she herself stated, funerals are for the living; and none of the living would have been pleased to see the Bad Seed showing up out of the blue in the midst of their mourning after more than a decade, especially in the wake of this particular death.
Ultimately, I waited a week or two and then mailed a sympathy card and signed my name. No return address or invitation to reconnect, just…sympathy.
Do you have ANY idea what a huge deal it was for me JUST to make that small gesture? After YEARS of silence following betrayal and abandonment by faaaaaamily?
I’m proud of how I handled this. Oh no, now I’m going to get a lecture on the sin of pride! But I did the right thing. It just wasn’t what the Good Little Christians insist would have been the right thing.