Thursday, August 14, 2008

A funeral and a reunion

I guess its time for me to stop posting excessively long replies to justin's blog.

Sometimes life has strange coincidences. Denise's grandfather just died on the 4th and was buried on Saturday. I didn't really know him. Whenever I visited I felt a bit awkward because he had a bad relationship with Denise's father. Since he died we have learned a bit more about him and I think that I understand him a bit more than I did when he was alive.

He served in the Korean War, but he wouldn't talk about the experience. He drank a lot after he came back from the war and he had a temper, but he was fiercely protective of his grandchildren. In the week before he died, he told his home health aide that he killed women and children when he was in Korea. Although it hasn't been widely reported, the US had a policy of shooting refugees during the war under the assumption that fighters were escaping by disguising themselves as refugees. The experience was obviously very traumatic for him, but also one that he felt needed to be kept secret. I can't imagine what it must feel like to have killed children. Knowing what he experienced, his alcoholism makes much more sense. I feel sad that I didn't get to know him better while he was alive. I feel ashamed for having judged him too harshly.

His funeral brought together a lot of family members. I spent most of last week with Denise's grandmother and Aunt Sylvia. Being around them is quite different than being with our family. Although we don't have very much in common, I feel very much at home around them. They are very relaxed, warm, and friendly. They don't really have many expectations about who I should be. They just accept me as I am. We had a lot of time to talk and share time together without having to "do" anything.

Since the funeral was so soon after the recent family reunion, I couldn't help comparing my two families. I felt like the reunion very structured both in terms of time and theological narrative. I felt like we were so busy being together that we didn't really have time for togetherness. I went home feeling like I wanted to spend time with my siblings, yet I had just spent a week with them.

I also felt like the experience of family that we had was distinctly defined by a theological narative of family. While the church is supposed to augment family, in my experience in our family it seems to have formalized family and absorbed the family. In our family, family seems to be defined by church events, morning and evening prayers, and Family Home Evening. We didn't really spend much time together when it wasn't FHE. In fact we often moved FHE from Monday to some other day because we couldn't all be there on Monday. If we were going to do something together on Saturday, that often counted as FHE. I'm not against religion, but it sometimes feels like we need to have an opening prayer to hang out and play a board game.

For most of us this kind of family structure isn't a problem, but I don't feel like I fit into the narrative. Of course I'm welcome to be part of the narrative, but I don't really want to be. This doesn't mean that I don't value family. I don't really talk about these things, and I usually feel like I'm not supposed to. I don't feel like I'm the only one. If Brianna marries Tim, I don't think that their lives will really fit well into the family narrative either. We are nearly half the siblings, but when the family gets together it seems like the need to pass on the religion and narrative to the next generation outweighs the need to include us. We, after all, are excluding ourselves. On the other hand, you have to love the family you have and not the one that you wish you had. I'm not sure how that is supposed to work, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't.

Often I feel like I have nothing to say when we are all together. There are so many things that I feel like I'm not supposed to say, that finding anything to talk about becomes a challenging mental game. It seems that movies, music, politics, religion, and philosophy are all generally off limits. They all lead back to religion somehow. Basically I shouldn't talk about anything that matters to me. I guess I could talk about what my kids did last week if I had any.

As I get older, I am becoming less worried about fitting in with others expectations and more concerned with being authentically myself. Being around my family makes me feel less authentic than anything else. When we come together we all self censor ourselves to fit into family expectations. We are all quite different, but we seem all the same when we are together. I personally want to know my siblings, and not just the parts of them that fit the expectations. I'm not sure how long it will take to get there, but I hope it isn't 20 years.

2 comments:

CrouchingOwl said...

I enjoyed your long replies, feel free to continue replies at whatever length you like (ok, within reasonable limits).

Bethany said...

I think alot of people wanted more down time, it just ended up being way more busy than anyone thought it would be. Although it was our first real reunion since we've all grown up. Hopefully we'll learn from this, and get better.