Tomorrow morning I am ending a five day trip to my hometown of Georgia. I came home to surprise my younger sister for her graduation party. It just so happened to be my nephews birthday so I got to also celebrate him. I moved away when I was 18 (20 years ago). It was actually more like I ran away as fast as I could and never looked back.
For the past 20 years it’s always been bittersweet to come home. I don’t have many good memories here. This state isn’t full of all my old friends. In fact, there’s only one person from school I still keep in contact with. At times, being home has been more stress and pain than it seemed worth.
Coming from a large family, it’s hard to always get along. I am one of five children and we are all married and four of us have children. Once we all had spouses and children of our own, our lives became even harder to intertwine. We now had to accommodate our significant others, our busy kids schedules and then maybe find time to spend with our siblings and parents. Sometimes our spouses didn’t like our siblings. Sometimes we had old issues from childhood that got in the way of us being kind to each other. Whatever is was, it has made family time challenging to say the least.
Living in Ohio, I think it’s been easy to disconnect emotionally and physically. Absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder. It made it easier and easier to convince myself that I just didn’t care. Missing birthdays and special events didn’t feel sad because I had let the hard parts of family become more powerful than blood. It didn’t hurt to be away from my brothers or sister or nieces and nephews. The distance wasn’t even a thought really.
Maybe it’s just getting older or maybe wounds have begun to heal or somewhere in between but this trip, this was important. This felt necessary. I wanted to show up for my sister. I wanted her to deeply feel my love and support for her. Even though we haven’t gotten along all our lives and as adults, we haven’t been very close that often, me showing up wasn’t optional. I don’t know why I decided this. What changed inside of me? I do know I am beyond elated with my decision.
When I walked in her house to surprise her, she was overcome with emotion. She began to cry and we hugged one of those embraces that you don’t ever want to let go from. We spent the day together with family and friends celebrating her. We didn’t fight. There wasn’t a moment of tension or animosity or discontent. We were two sisters, laughing and being bound together. I was able to share kind and genuine words in a card. I was able to show her in action just how much she means to me. And in that day, in this trip, I felt like years of struggling subsided. We were friends again. We were like we once were as children sharing a bedroom, staying up late and giggling with each other. We remembered why we love each other so much.
Then came a lunch with my sister in law and mother. Just that sentence can be tough for some families. Meshing so many different personalities can feel impossible. Attempts to be kind can fail miserably and tension can create years of avoidance and awkwardness. But today, today was perfect. Lunch was full of joy and common ground. Three woman in three different stages of life, bound together by blood and marriage, able to somehow put aside fears and insecurities and opinions to just enjoy each other, lift each other up and love one another. And somehow, in that meal, the beginning of healing began. The value of family was renewed. The desire to continue to work on things was recharged. And again, I was grateful for showing up.
Growing up in Georgia was awful in many ways. I’ve referenced some things previously and am sure I will explain so much more as my blog continues. I don’t have fond memories. I don’t often leave feeling sad and anticipating my next visit. This is the first time I’ve really had a heaviness within me. I don’t want to miss these moments. I feel so connected and joyful and I don’t want it to stop.
I’ve always felt like other families were somehow better or closer than mine. That mine was so screwed up and I almost wanted to just find replacements. That’s not been a constant feeling but it’s been a pretty overwhelming one at times. I am so glad that feeling is fading and being replaced by what I can only imagine will continue to grow into more love, more joy and more closeness.
In life it can be a simple switch turned on and off when it comes to friendships and I’ve always felt that it was that way with family. Once I’d felt hurt and betrayed enough, I didn’t have to open my heart to whatever or whoever the cause was. I could pretend the person didn’t exist and even imagine they never existed. I could harden my heart to the point that I truly believed I was happier without my brother or sister. What I’ve come to find is that isn’t the case. I craved connection from my family so much and felt so discouraged and hurt at times that I decided to protect myself by shutting them out and shutting myself down. Maybe everyone doesn’t desire closeness with their family. Maybe it’s a fantasy to believe that old scars can be healed and forgiven. I choose to hope in the opposite and open myself back up because one trip like this is way better than all those years of indifference.