I got the call this morning (August 22, 2016)--my grandma passed away last night. She was diagnosed with lung cancer only 6 weeks ago and it had spread to her brain. I had just visited her in Washington for the first time in probably some 18 years or so back in April. I saw her maybe 2 or 3 other times during those 18 years and never talked to her apart from them. Her husband, my grandpa, died a few years back. I don't even remember what year he died let alone the day. I practically gave it no thought. I hardly knew him. I remember playing Home Alone and Carmen Sandiego on his computer when I was in grade school, that he had machinery in his garage, that he had a tough and protruding belly you could bounce off of, and that when grandma yelled for "John" it sounded an awful lot like "Sean." I often thought I was in trouble when it was really he who had it coming.
I am saddened by my grandma's death, but not for the usual reasons. I am deeply saddened that I am not more sad. My wife enjoys a deep bond with her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. A bond that I could never fully understand given my own family relationships. Because of their bond, I have a closer relationship with my wife's grandparents and various relatives than I do with even my own parents, let alone extended family. I communicate with my parents about as often as there are birthdays and major holidays. And that, usually in the form of a text message or Facebook post. This has changed slightly since the diagnosis of my grandma with my mom keeping us informed of her mother's condition, but that's not exactly the best topic of conversation. Even then, it expanded merely to Google Chat instead.
While I am not entirely convinced it is the only reason, I can blame distance for much of our dysfunction. My mom and her family lives in Washington while I am in Michigan. I am in the southeast of Michigan while my father who raised me is in the upper peninsula with his parents, and my biological father is in Florida--his parents in Oklahoma. I only just met him and his parents about 7 years ago and haven't seen them since. I get birthday wishes from both fathers via text message, and we get presents for our kids: money in a card or a gift of my own selection on their behalf. Beyond that, communication is practically nil. As much as they don't reach out to me, I am not reaching out to them. But why? Why haven't we been reaching out? The only answer I have for this is another question: "Why reach out?"
So they're my family. Is this important? Does it matter? What's in a family? I presume family is supposed to be a lot like close friends who stick together and never go away. But we have all gone away. And we're not friends. We stick together like eggs and Teflon. In fact, there is so little similar between all of them and me, that I could hardly imagine we're family at all if not for recognizing their faces as the ones I saw a few times as I grew up. We have a few similar nuances and behaviors, but apart from that we are polar opposites in ideals, entertainment, and life goals. Is it still worth pursuing such a long-distance relationship with those who similarly do not pursue it with me and share nothing in common? I could hardly say yes. Even if we managed to communicate, what bond could be made? It would be much like picking strangers at random with nothing in common and deciding that I am going to become BFFs with them. I have a hard enough time building bonds with people who have similar interests. Perhaps I am simply too socially awkward to know how to have any kind of real relationship family or otherwise.
This brings me to the true state of my sadness. I am sad that I am not more sad because it is a slap in my face that I have nothing to be sad about. I have lost nothing because I had nothing to even lose. I am heart broken only in that it means practically nothing to me. It hurts in all the wrong ways. I feel awful that they never cared about me, or perhaps awful that I could never recognize it. It hurts to know that my family doesn't think I'm worth pursuing or that I simply suck so bad that they have no reason and I am not worth it. Either my family sucks or I suck and neither is the greater revelation. I never called when I heard that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. I felt no need to say goodbye or provide condolence. I never called when my grandpa died and I don't think I even called my mom to see how she was handling it. Is that because I am terrible or is it the circumstances themselves that were terrible which provided me no reason to call?
I am not entirely sure what to conclude about my family's situation, but I do know one thing: I don't want it to be like this for my kids and eventual grandchildren. I want to keep in touch so that the sadness is in losing me, not in never having me. I want my grandchildren to know who I am and to know that I care. I want my children and beyond to think me worth visiting from time to time and I want them to value each other. But what's to say that my own kids won't find jobs far away and become polar opposites of me? What then? I guess I don't really know, but I will at least try for now. I can only hope we share some common ground when they are older. I would like to think we will if I give them my time now as they grow. They're the only family I've got these days. I hope I can at least keep them.