Warmest regards: When families drift apart
By Pattie Mihalik
Last week I told readers about my cousin Marie, the most inspirational part of my young life.
One of the most extraordinary things about Marie that showed her character was when she walked 1½ miles home from her high school at lunch time, just so I would have a place to go for lunch.
When Marie graduated, I watched while she took almost every award for top student as well as three activity awards.
As I watched her march up to the stage time and again, that fueled my academic ambition.
I wanted to be like my cousin Marie.
What I don’t understand is how I could lose contact with a cousin who was so instrumental in my life.
But that’s what happened. When her husband left her for another woman, she never recovered. The divorce was hard enough. When she lost their home as well, it did her in.
So what did I do for her?
Absolutely nothing. She made a series of moves to other states and never let us know where she was.
In our family we used to joke that we got together as a family only when there was a death or wedding.
For those occasions, we all traveled back to our hometown and reveled in being with each other.
I can remember times during a family viewing when we cousins were “shushed” by our older relatives because we were laughing too much.
It was impossible not to laugh when finally we all got together.
After thinking about it all week, I realize what made my cousins and I so close growing up was that we all lived in the same town. I stayed close with my aunts by getting together to play cards every Sunday, or by dropping in to see them.
Those things are easy when you live in the same town. Geographically, when everyone scatters over the face of the earth like dandelion in the wind, it’s all too easy to lose contact. Especially after the family glue is gone.
“The glue” in many families is the mother. Siblings and relatives can lose track of each other when there is no longer a mother to come home to visit.
After my mother and Marie’s mother passed away, we also lost our line of family communication.
We were all busy with our jobs, immediate family and the “gotta dos” that are always there.
I’m sure we thought of each other. But we didn’t do anything about it.
Things were different in the days before the internet, Facebook and Ancestry.com let us track people.
It was the ancestry site that allowed Marie’s daughter Stacey to contact me.
What she had to say was devastating.
Marie is dying.
Ever since her message I kept wondering how I could let Marie disappear from my life.
Part of the reason it happened was because we lost touch. Because of Marie’s depression, perhaps she wanted it that way.
I am so sorry I let it happen. But I learned a lesson. I’m not going to make that mistake with other family members.
Using Facebook, I contacted my wonderful niece Francine after I realized I wasn’t in contact with her for more than a decade.
Fortunately, Franny agrees with me that we have so few family members left. Those of us still here have to make a concerted effort to stay in touch.
I was thrilled when Francine accepted my offer to have her stay with me in my Florida home during her next vacation.
Both of us vow not to lose contact again.
Through Ancestry.com, I also reached out to other relatives I haven’t seen in 10 to 20 years. While we may not visit, at least we can use Facebook and Ancestry to stay in touch.
Yet, with all the means of communication we now have, some still stay out of touch with family members.
Some people prefer it that way.
Sometimes there are hard feelings over something silly, so family members stop talking.
And sometimes, it’s because of fights over money or possessions after parents pass away.
One of my girlfriends lost her brothers over “personal possessions” after their mother died.
The mother’s will was vague, leaving her “personal possessions” to Doris, the only daughter.
Doris said that meant her mother’s diamond rings were meant for her.
The brothers insisted if their mother wanted her to have her rings, she would have said so in the will. They said the rings were part of the estate and should be sold.
Finally, after a three-year battle, my friend told her brothers they were worth more to her than any material thing.
But hard feelings remained and they all drifted apart.
Sometimes a family splits up over a fight that never gets resolved. No one wants to be the one to extend the olive branch.
I know a man who didn’t talk to his sister for decades. He claimed they would make up “someday.”
I told him he better hurry because he’s now 81 and his sister isn’t much younger.
Some day they might be sorry because they waited too long to mend fences.
Is there a relative or good friend you haven’t contacted in a long time?
Perhaps you should do it now.
Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Chances are you’ll feel good about yourself if you take the initiative.
Contact Pattie Mihalik at email@example.com.