I don’t know too many people now-a-days who can comfortably define the word family. What does it mean to be family? Do we have to be blood relatives? Does a family consist of grand-parents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins? Does it matter to the definition if the family is functional or dysfunctional? For most people whom I surveyed for the purpose of this blog entry, family seems to hold the connotation of love, trust, respect, support and most of all happiness. There’s nobody out there who wants to be part of a family that doesn’t want them around or doesn’t care for them… Lets face it if we had to define family it wouldn’t be so much about blood but more so about the concept of relative: Individuals who gather together under a common ground.
A few years ago while I was in the hospital for my kidneys I came across this older man (mid-60’s) who was synchronically looking for the office of the physician who was treating me at the time. He stopped me in the hallway and asked if I could help him find Dr.C. I remember noticing the man on a few occasions during the day as we crossed each other’s path repeatedly. On a few of those instances I watched the man fall in these semi-trances where suddenly I could see him talk to two ghosts: A brother and a wife. After eavesdropping on some of the conversations I came to realize that he missed fishing with his departed brother and was incredibly lonely without his wife. Since we were mysteriously brought together by the cosmos I decided to bridge the topic of family. Here I was trying so hard to stay away from revealing myself as a ghost whisperer and it was him who admitted to increasingly seeing his brother around.
“It sounds crazy I know…” he said staring out the window as if he could see a world beyond ours. I was so impressed with the way his memories gave him access to the dead and to the after life that I couldn’t stop following the stories that lay in the silence between us. What he did share with me was always beautiful and filled with happiness I just couldn’t quite make up my mind on whether his nostalgia was healthy or not. “Was he depressed and trapped in his grief?” I wondered “or was he simply finding his way home; guided by the people who had loved him the most.” Obviously, through this encounter I realized that it could only imply one thing – that he was dying himself. A week later when I saw my doctor for a follow-up appointment I asked Dr.C about the man. My Nephrologist recognized him right away from my description and sadly announced to me that he had passed away of sudden kidney failure two days previously.
“Grief killed him,” he said while informing me of the death toll in his family in the last few years. Dr.C saw the whole story as a tragedy while I stood there trying not to smile while remembering the way the man timidly and humbly talked so openly about his experience and his feelings, believing that he was being invited by his loved ones to remember and to follow. He wasn’t the first person I met through the years that experienced something of the sort. I remember ET’s grand-mother who literally packed her luggage 24 hours before her death announcing to us all that she was leaving and her dead loved ones were picking her up at the airport. In many of the stories that I was fortunate enough to live through with people who passed away – family was a relative part of the whole death process.
I found it amazing last month when I heard that our 14 year old dog actually held on to life for an extra week, until the whole family was home before she let go and died. When Agnes was dying it took MR to tell her “she would be ok” for her to finally let go. 88 years old, diabetic with heart problems – and the woman still found the strength to stick around for her daughter. For as long as she believed that MR needed her she was staying around. Interestingly enough even in death she kept her word and remained around MR almost as if to say: “See I knew you’d need me.” Agnes certainly taught us that family is eternal and reaches beyond blood to the bones: Ancestry.
In the last decade I had the opportunity to be part of two First Nation ceremonies where ancestral bones kept in museums were returned to their ancestral burial grounds. The phenomenon that occurred in both instances related to family and the importance of resolution. I understood through these experiences that we are all connected to each other at so many different levels and that in each instances it always boils down to wellness and wholeness.
Family is meant to teach us about growth, trust and love (the elements in the south of our Medicine Wheel). When we build our Wheels we always sit in the South with our eyes to the North where our destiny and our wisdom lies. We are told that if we want to walk the Red Road we need to walk in the foot prints of our ancestors and choose to be well and whole. I’ve often asked myself the question: “What if our family and our ancestors are dysfunctional and where incapable of teachings us how to be well and whole? What then?”
Years of journeying have answered the above question for me in so many different ways. I’ve learnt that there is no such thing as a family with no wisdom and no potential of growth and renewal. It takes opening our hearts to the beauty and abundance around us. Relative appears in so many forms – it’s a matter of finding which is meant for us. Wellness and wholeness is a choice we all have and given to us by Creator. If we choose to be whole and we choose to be well – family or all that is relative will appear in our lives. I don’t about everyone else but for me this is definition enough…
When I was 19 years old I had a dream. I visited this Mexican man who gave me this medicine for my kidneys in a Maxwell House silver can of coffee. He drank a cup of his own but made the comment that his was much stronger than mine... He winked at me to tell me that he was a heavy drinker. He was very friendly and loving towards me. He gave me a tour of his home and his workshop. He seemed proud of both. He openly shared so much of himself. He seemed to tell me that it was important for me to remember every little detail. Then, finally before I woke up the man asked that I take care of his little girl who was traveling to Canada. Almost 10 years later I met this woman, KM -- and knew right away that she was this little girl. We instantly connected and talked about everything. She's the one who confirmed that at the moment I had the dream, her father was passing away. She was still a child then...
Last month, KM's mother came for a visit. She's an elder in her 80's now. She asked one evening that I sit with her and share my story. While I talked KM translated from English to Spanish. KM's mom was moved by the story and astonished with the fact that I knew so much about her home. I actually talked about the trees and where they were positioned around the house. I mentioned where the sun rose and set. I had never seen pictures and yet, it was as if I had a whole album in my mind. In tears Mrs.F said: "I'm so happy to hear that my husband took care of his daughter even in death." She kissed my hands wet with her tears and recognized how blessed I was. In that moment, I understood that family was around me even when I thought I was only having dreams. It was the kind of moment of perfection that can only translate wellness and wholeness: Family.
P.S. Thank TAN for inspiring this blog. It was your question on “family” that brought up this entry.
The picture at the top of the blog is of our Mexican Family and it speaks of the word FAMILY beyond blood. It defines relative as a blessed word.