this too
Monday, May 09, 2005
  No going back
I was so moved by Natalie’s account of her very old aunt and uncle, ill and frail and barely cared for in hospital. With which of us does this not resonate?

Then Leslee took up a related theme, remarking on the continuing strength of family ties in Mexico. I sometimes think I don’t need to blog while Leslee’s there to write so well about many of my preoccupations!

I often have such deep and contradictory feelings when I go abroad or spend time with British people whose immigrant families still live in accordance with their traditions.

I think of a former colleague whose parents came to England from Bangladesh - a big close family. She was so safe, so supported, so sure of her own worth and so lovely because of this – less guarded. She seemed almost a different species from someone like me. But also so limited, so held back by the expectations of her culture - a clever woman who didn't go to college; a bright, unusual person with no choice but a conventional arranged marriage.

What we've lost makes me sad and angry and frightened. But I walked away from my own family because they are seriously unpleasant, and – unhealing wound though it is - I'm deeply thankful that I had the option of doing that. I truly don't think I would have survived them.

There's no way back, I think. Only perhaps a way forward, now some of us are noticing what we threw out with the bath water.
Ah - unhealing wounds. It takes courage to walk away sometimes. I had a therapist who once asked me, "You wouldn't want to live near a toxic dump would you?" I might have experienced a bit of what you speak - in different ways, Jean. There is no way to go back but then Tom says to me, "Don't look back." Going forward, though, we take it with us. We've never really thrown anything away - it's all within. Safe and sound.
Maybe we're in some kind of transitional period in our culture - we've gained the freedom to extract ourselves from bad familial situations but haven't yet created a new model that balances independence and caring community. Probably people who've had good modeling of relationships as children have something to start from. And the strong do fine without a support system, as do those who are happy being hermits. But it seems those of us trying to heal our hearts can't help but spend our lives trying to work out that balance.

My family is a mixed bag - sometimes you put your hand in and pull out a candy, sometimes nuts, and sometimes something bites you hard on the finger. So I'm not cut off from them completely, just wary.
It's true, we have the freedom to walk away and not follow cultural or family traditions. And that's a blessing. But maybe it's when we get older that we start to look with different eyes at those who are still "stuck" in those traditions. I envy now those extended Indian or African families because they seem to cope better with the problems of caring for aged relatives, sharing the burden. and not being that concerned about maintaining one's independence. But what do I know? Maybe, seen from the inside, things are just as complicated and stressful as they are for us "free" beings.
It's so difficult. I left a fairly functional, old-fashioned extended family because the web of obligations and fishbowl atmosphere felt completely stifling. I had to, or die - and I don't regret it. But, like Leslee, i now have to re-enter to deal with aging parents, and like Natalie, as I grow older I worry a good deal about my own old age. It seems one thing we are doing here is building networks of friendship and emotional support that have the potential to be lifelong. It doesn't help when you fall out of bed, but for me, I worry less about coming up with practical solutions for my physical care than the anxiety of being old and emotionally, intellectually isolated. This already helps me a great deal, long before old age! So I do think we may be beginning to create a new "family" model, even though we can't "see" it happening in the real world yet.
Beth, yes, I fear intellectual isolation in old age just as much as lack of physical care. That's why your recent account of your father-in-law and his friend was so heartwarming. (sudden visions of self at 80 sneeking into computer room at old folks' home to read blogs - fellow residents still not knowing what a blog is... but technology will have moved far, far on by then...)
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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