Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Religion of Family

I have a first cousin who was adopted into my family when she was four years old; I was sixteen. My aunt and uncle were so thrilled to have a daughter, though I had been their surrogate daughter for many years. The year she was adopted was the year after we left my father, the year after my brother died, the year after my nephew was born, the year after my mother made my brother marry the mother of my nephew...not all in that order. So, I wasn't particularly interested in a four-year-old. Finally, I wasn't the daughter of the town drunk; so I was enjoying my junior year of high school. I did see this adopted cousin several times over the next few years, and when I was 27 she came and spent two weeks with me. We had a good time. I think I've seen her twice since then.

She spent her after school time with my grandmother, who had been bitter about the troubles between my mom and dad. Consequently, I didn't spend much time with her. My uncle Myrvis lived with my grandparents and was an integral part of this cousin's life - as he never was part of mine. He and my Dad tried to out drink one another.

(I know this is rambling; hang in there with me.)

Myrvis is 89 years old now, and his health is failing rapidly. I knew enough of the relatives to follow him as he left his family home and moved into the Veterans Nursing Home and subsequently to an assisted living facility near his cousin, who cares for him. The adopted cousin did not know these people, and she has lost touch with my uncle.

This adopted cousin is not someone that I want in my life. She stole money from my aunt, was involved in drugs, birthed a child who was addicted and very much a problem in her teen years, and thought that I hung the moon. She chose her profession in life because that's where I was working the summer she visited me. She knew about my life as I grew into adulthood while I was totally uncaring of her existence.

As a thoughtful, caring, loving person, should I track her down and let her know where Myrvis is? What is my spiritual obligation to this family member? Myrvis was never terribly fond of this adopted cousin or me. I don't know if he would want to see her, and he doesn't talk on the telephone much; so I can't ask him. I asked the person who cares for him tonight; she said, "I don't know. You just have to do what you think is right."

So, what is right?

The religion of family. I want to pick and choose which members of my extended family that I want in my life. To a great extent, I believe that is a choice I can make even as a loving, caring person. I don't have to invite everyone into my life - that includes the ones who are family. Where do I get to set boundaries? What might be good for her, might not be good for me.

Perhaps I shall check the phone directory in the last place I knew she lived. Then, I'll make a decision. Meanwhile, I'm praying about this.

An hour later - I found a phone number that could be hers; I called, and I got no answer and no answering machine.


PseudoPiskie said...

IMNSHO you tried. No answer was your answer. Are you sure you want these people back in your life? Can your life handle involvement with them if they decide to stick around? If they have lost touch with each other, do they want to reestablish communication? What benefit will accrue to each if they do? I don't think it is your responsibility. I don't think you should in any way jeopardize your peace and stability by getting involved. But that is just my opinion. You have to live with your decision. I don't.

DanG said...

A similar situation happened to my wife. A cousin whom she had not seen on 60 years made contact with an uncle they both (she and my wife ) shared. My wife has not spoken with this uncle for some time, and so he did not tell her of the contact with her long lost cousin. The uncle threw a family reunion for the cousin, her sister and their mother. He did not invite my wife, but he did invite my wife's sister and her husband. They did not tell my wife of the reunion. The story came out accidentally while we were visiting my wife's sister and her husband. When she heard about the missing cousin, she was furious about being kept in the dark. So furious, in fact, that she insisted we leave immediately and return the 800 miles to our home. The point of her anger was that her sister made the decision that my wife would not be comfortable visiting the home of her estranged uncle, rather than telling her and letting her make her own decision. Not too sure if this fit your situation or not.

Anonymous said...

Well, you may want to just throw this advice right out the window. I am not claiming any special insight here.

It seems to me like they are already disrupting your life. Imagine what your life would be like if these people were actually in it! I say don't give it a second thought. Keep your own peace.

I think family is probably the expression that first prompted the saying "Less is more."

Good luck!


Kate Morningstar said...

Well, first of all, I have an adopted nephew who at 14 is either in the same kinds of trouble your cousin was getting in, or is looking to. He has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The part of his brain that should be processing things like effect-follows-cause and right-versus-wrong just never developed. It was soaked with alcohol and who knows what else while he was in the womb.

A few years ago I got a call at work, saying if I wanted to see my grandmother alive, I should come today. Hadn't seen much of her in the previous few years. She was a toxic waste spill.

My mother and stepfather had left on vacation the day before. My mother and her mother got along worse than most people in the family. I told my aunt, I'm calling my mother tonight -- she's going to drive 800 miles further away tomorrow. My aunt, and other family members, argued with me. It would just make everything worse if my mother was there too.

I tended to agree. But, it wasn't my right or responsibility to decide if she should see her mother again. The only person who got to decide that was my mother. I did reach her, and she decided to come back. She claimed til her own death that it was only because my sister and I had asked her to. Nope. My sister didn't even have the itinerary and phone numbers, and I know what I said.

Mothers and daughters aren't the same. That was my choice, to let my mother alone make her choice.

The important thing to remember is, God loves all of you, whatever action you take, and whatever result it has.

zorra said...

(Just getting caught up here.)
I think Pseudopiskie is right. You tried, and did not reach her. I think that's your answer. You have to do what it takes to keep yourself healthy.