The old father-in-law is sobbing in a tiny hall bathroom in a relative’s house. With him are his very old wife and their grown up son.
The rest of the family continues to sit around the Christmas table looking confused.
Too much “Merry Water” and the grandfather makes what he thinks is a kind remark about another grandfather who is dead.
This sets off a furor between the son-in-laws who verbally attack the old man about the dead man’s character.
Bad goes to worse and the old guy starts crying and retreats to the bathroom.
That was last year’s holiday party.
This year it’s another doozer.
I decide we siblings need closure after our mother’s death a year ago.
After two times of trying and having interlopers show up and ruin the gathering, a new date is finally set. Just my siblings and I will meet at my house along with our Great Aunt Ruby, the last of the oldest relatives. Nobody else is invited.
We will vent and air our feelings about our mother’s long and difficult dying from cancer. We will sort through all the un-resolved “PTSD” some of us feel we have acquired, the “loss of faith” and “fear of dying Mom’s way” that some of us have said we are feeling.
This is my plan.
We need to do this I believe, in order to either dump or pick up our worn emotional luggage and clatter on.
The day to do this is now here and we four sisters are waiting in my sunny sitting room for our Great Aunt Ruby to arrive. Our eyes are fixed on the bay windows that face my black iron front gate.
We plan to go together to have lunch at our brother Jim’s restaurant where we will meet up with our other brother Arthur. We will all come back here after we eat.
While we wait, one of our sisters is detailing her sudden personal heartbreak with her only child, a son. She has just discovered he is not a nice person. He is unexpectedly busy this holiday season, gutting his parents with a metaphorical tractor.
This sister who never cries, begins sobbing in great heaving jerks.
Another sister’s only daughter has called from another state to say she has gotten married. This sister puts a good nod on it by saying, “….Well…at least it saves me the money of putting on a wedding for her.”
We all discuss our brother Jim and his troubles with mood swings while he tries to keep his mobile kitchen afloat.
Arthur, after his bout with cancer is doing well.
Ruby is late in coming.
Then the gate clangs and we all look expectantly out the front windows.
Oh my god…There is Ruby with three huge people lumbering behind her.
Who are these strangers? Who are these people who are barging into my carefully crafted private family party?
My sisters and I all look at each other and clack our teeth.
Aunt Ruby comes in the front door with her entourage.
She introduces them. They are our two cousins that we haven’t seen since childhood and a grown grandson we have never met.
There goes our exclusive family meeting. I am wailing inside myself.
I lose my sense of civility. It evaporates. I wonder if my raw self shows.
Later, at lunch, it hasn’t returned. I am very quiet.
At Jim’s stationary mobile kitchen we all sit at a big picnic table. It’s very cold and Jim is very busy. Because we are family, we don’t see any food for an hour and a half. Real Customers keep bumping us off the list.
By the time we eat we know that our female cousin used to make up dead people’s faces and do their hair when she was married to a mortician. That mortician is now dead but has found fame after death.
Our cousin shows us many photos of the dead husband’s old battered motorcycle parked upright in the desert with a can of his ashes glued onto the seat. We are told that the man is so popular out there in the badlands that many of his dead friends and some dead family have joined him. We are shown more photos of more motorcycles with more cans of ashes stuck to the seats.
This would be amusing if I weren’t so disappointed that once again, a gathering of the siblings hasn’t worked out.
Our cousin mentions she is working in oncology right now.
We have just been through this miserable cancer business with our mother and our brother Art with the leukemia.
My stomach forms a mid-size stone.
Next to the Oncology/Motorcycle Cousin sits another cousin’s grandson, in his 30′s.
He says, “I have terminal cancer you know. He slaps his chest. A big tumor,” he says ” jumped from here right up into my head!”
He pulls a cigarette out of his pocket and taps it on the table.
We siblings are entranced.
“Yep,” he says, “Look at this scar.” He traces the cigarette the length of a long zig zag red seam that runs from his right eye across his shaved head.
“I start chemo this Friday,” he says, almost gaily.
He stuffs the cigarette in his mouth, lights it, sucks deeply and blows out a stream of smoke.
We siblings recoil. Looks like our family won’t be discussing our mother dying from lung cancer today and the painful way she passed.
Various juicy cancer stories then get a detailed and intensive workout. The gruesome tales are tossed around the table like tumors the size of basketballs.
I try not to listen.
My male cousin mainly smiles at me with his yellow teeth underneath his yellow mustache.
I never figure out what this cousin does or who he is.
Obviously, this get together has not turned out the way I demanded it to and expected it to.
I’m seething. I’m feeling like a bitch.
Why am I so massively upset because my plans have gone awry?
I’m normally rather non judgmental and I love people.
My great aunt and cousins are nice people. I like them. They’re interesting, that’s for sure.
I’m wiggling my eyebrows at my siblings now and twitching my lips to the west. This is my secret code (secret from them!) asking them how we can ditch this side of the family so we can put our After Lunch Plan into effect; the plan for all of us ‘kids’ and Aunt Ruby to return to my house for tea and talk. This is where we will all get down to business and heal the family. Remember?
Jim stands up from the table and says, “I can’t come, gotta’ get back to work.”
Arthur gives us all a charming smile and says he can’t come either, for some puzzling reason.
Candy gets up from the table, says she has a stomach ache and is going grocery shopping.
Polly makes a tiny growly noise and looks at me.
Barbara hiccups very politely.
My eyes form into evil slits. I stand up, too. I feel like kicking over a few sturdy picnic tables.
“Nice seeing you,” I say to my confused aunt and cousins. “We’ll have to do this, again sometime.”
I run after Candy who is heading to her car.
“This is the worst party I’ve ever been to,” I hiss.
Candy pauses, looks into the air and says, “Oh. I’ve been to a few worse ones.”
We kids all scatter and leave our old aunt and cousins huddling close together in the freezing wind in the parking lot.
I go home and shut all the curtains in my house which is not like me.
‘So much’, I mutter, ‘for all my maneuvering and trying to set up Our Sibling Party That Will Fix All Our Mental Pain About Our Mother’s Passing. The Party That Will Heal Us And Make Us The Family We Used To Be.
I am mad and mean for days.
Why am I so angry and disturbed? What’s wrong with me, I wonder. Maybe it’s my liver? A congested or cloudy liver can make a person irritable.
Two weeks later I am still continuing to ruminate! I am quite busy snotting around about that awful party.
Eventually one day, daydreaming while I sit on the blue couch in my sitting room I see a vision of a huge tree falling, kerplunk! in the forest.
Oh My! Am I so emotionally and obsessively disturbed because I can’t/couldn’t stop a tree from falling?
Our mother was the big redwood in the great woods and when she was uprooted and hit the ground, our family was uprooted with her.
Realistically, I finally realize, nothing I can do will ameliorate or fix her dying. It’s happened. It’s done.
Perhaps, I think, I need to just let it alone. Forget getting us siblings all together. Maybe I need to let things be and stop fighting life as it takes it’s own course…instead of it’s taking my course.
My orange cat trots over to sit with me.
‘Maybe’ I tell him, ‘this time of year lots of us have to finally see the truth of things about people and situations and we get upset when they rarely match our expectations of them.
My cat yawns. I see all his little teeth.
I try and say the same thing but in a different way so Karl the Cat and I will understand.
‘Perhaps the Holidays bring to the surface all of our hidden griefs along with our hopes and wishes about what our family and friends and life situations should be like and we don’t want to see what they are really like.
Maybe what we all need to do is just relax.
My cat snuggles into my lap and shows me how. He flips over with his round belly up and waves a big paw. He grins at me with his genetically flawed underbite.
Maybe, I tell him again, we need to shrug our shoulders and let it all be. Let it be what it is..and let it be what it is not.
Karl looks into my eyes and winks.
A big sigh rolls out of me and my tight shoulders drop.
‘You’re right,” I tell him.
And then I say the most profound thing I have said or thought in two weeks:
“I need to drink more doctored eggnog.”
Of course! That’s why doctored eggnog is a ritual Christmas drink. Drink some and it makes it hard to think about these issues. It even makes us feel…what? Happy and Joyful? In the Holiday Spirit? In love with our families and all humankind?
Oh wow. I have some eggnog in the refrigerator!
I spring up from the couch and pour myself a healthy glass of the stuff. Oh. And here’s a large bottle of old brandy that I find in the back of a cupboard. Hey! It’s the holidays so in it goes, a whopping snort of the happy stuff into my eggnog.
After a half hour or so, I have another deep realization! (This stuff brings on clarity!)
My life is OK. My life is very darn good. My family is going to make it however it comes about.
Karl and I laugh and snort a bit. You know why? Because I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I’m not out in some dry, colddesert, frittered and fried, stuffed and jammed into an old coffee can, glued to the seat of a rusty motorcycle that’s left standing for the ages in hard concrete.
And, most perfectly, I’m not in this condition with a good many of my friends and family who are in the same kind of can I am
See? I just thought I had family problems!
How about you? Where would you rather be? In an old coffee can or in the life you are living? Ummm? I thought so. See…You’re lucky, too.
Please leave your Comment below. I read all your comments!! At the end of each month I will choose a comment at random and the author will win a free 10 minutes with me on the phone. The winner will always be listed at the end of the first blog that comes out in the following month.