By Jill Chapin
September 7, 2012
Sometimes we find that close family relatives seem to have been air-brushed out of our lives. Recollections of why we lost touch have long been erased from our memory banks, but a good guess as to why we no longer see them is likely due to a long-forgotten family feud.
Sometimes the dissolution is borne of irreparable reasons. A friend of mine has nothing to do with his sister because she knowingly kept quiet while her husband molested their children and continues to insist on his innocence. For this, there can be no statute of limitations regarding forgiveness, but to his credit, he has maintained close ties with his nieces.
All too often, however, family break-ups are spawned by words spoken in the heat of an argument or financial issues that were never resolved. In instances such as these, a lifelong grudge can render a longer sentence than those meted out to really bad people. Hardened criminals and murderers are brought back into the fold of society after serving their time, but oddly enough, one bad argument over someone’s in-laws or child rearing abilities can confer a life sentence of complete and total ostracism. This is when innocent victims of those who are fighting – usually children – have no chance of maintaining their close connections with loved ones.
But not always. Sometimes when those children grow up, they sense an opportunity to leapfrog over their parents’ bad blood, and remedy what was lost as the decades marched onward.
Count me as one who righted this wrong before it was too late, albeit, nearly half a century later. I recall my sister telling me around fifteen years ago that she had reconnected with our favorite aunt, the funny, vivacious one who always told hilarious stories and sang heartily without a shred of talent. Soon after, I too slipped back into her life, since my father had died and the bad feelings between them were finally and officially over.
She has four children, and my siblings and I used to look forward to family visits with them. It was surprisingly easy to pick up where we had left off in the middle of the last century. My aunt always joins us for these gatherings as she is the glue that is pasting us back together. One by one, I met up with each of my cousins – delightfully fun and irreverent – and the conversations seemed to flow effortlessly from when we last spoke, which was sometime around the launching of Sputnik.
Several years ago, one of my cousins had me and my husband for dinner where we were introduced to his wife and family, accompanied by a shameful reality that I had never before met them.
Likewise with his oldest brother who also invited us to meet his family. Their sister recently spent the night at our home when she was in town on business. And I finally just met their youngest brother and his wife last week, spending hours reminiscing as though it had been only half a year instead of half a century since we had last seen each other.
The warmth and camaraderie was both joyful and bittersweet, because it was tempting to dwell on all that could have been.
But instead, we have decided to feel gratitude that our good genes have graciously allowed us time to re-connect. My indomitable aunt is 96, but before you assume she is doddering around, please know that this spunky, gorgeous lady still drives, uses a cell phone and computer, and gave up tennis just a few years ago. She walks around as freely as I do, and can remember a litany of jokes that are really, really funny. Her sense of recall is astonishing which is why she has been able to cobble our family back together.
So to any of you who feel that too much time has passed to forge a reunion with long lost relatives, I would encourage you not to give up. My husband and I feel that our lives have been immeasurably enriched for welcoming them back into my life, and now his too. When he starts to go down that Too-Bad-It-Took-So-Long road, I hush him up with that age-old truism: Better late than never.