My best friend’s father died suddenly last week and I couldn’t get to her fast enough. She was doing as well as she could be under the circumstances, surrounded by a very large and loving family.
As I stood in line to pay my respects (for two hours, mind you; this man left his mark on the world), there was a slide show playing of all the family memories they’ve made together. I’ve known my best friend and her family for almost 30 years, and I have always been in awe of how they showed up for each other.
If she needed support in college, they were there. On her birthday, her whole family came and took her and her friends out to dinner. If she’s planning a party, her mom helps plan, stays late, and helps her clean up afterward — and she does the same for her parents and brothers and sisters.
They don’t have to worry if they stumble because someone they love and trust is there in two shakes without question, without guilt, without being reminded of all that’s been done for them.
This is just the way they are.
I was so drawn to this dynamic, I wanted them to adopt me when I was teenager. And in a way, they kind of did since I was always welcomed into the family fold.
I try not to be envious or want her life — I believe we have all been given what we need — but standing in that line, surrounded by love, food and warmth, witnessing how they are with each other, it was a brutal reminder of what I don’t have.
My father lives six miles down the road. He is young, retired, handy, and financially secure. Yet he has never asked me if I need anything — not even when he knew I was going through a divorce. In fact, he hasn’t even been to my house since my ex-husband moved out … two years ago.
I don’t ask him for help because throughout my entire life, he’s made excuses to me and my siblings about why he isn’t able to do this or that, no matter how small the favor. His motto should be: “I just can’t make it.”
He and my mother are divorced and, while she lives a little further away and works part time, she offers a bit more of her time, though she always makes sure to remind you of all she has to do, often says no, and if she does come to help with something, she holds it over your head for a while or asks for something in return.
I’ve heard her talk behind my sisters’ backs about how much she does for them, how they’re ungrateful, and how tired she gets helping them with their kids. By now, it’s not worth it to me to ask her for help either. The price is too high, and I’m not willing to pay. I’d rather suck it up and figure it out for myself, because the aftermath makes me feel resentful.
Why can’t we just show up for each other? I can only imagine what it would be like if I could pick up the phone and ask my parents for help. It would literally be a different world. Date nights would be a possibility, and bad days and overwhelming times could be soothed by family members simply being available.
This past week was a reality check for me in many ways. One thing I took away from seeing my friend and her family during this trying time was this: Just because my parents aren’t the “showing up” type doesn’t mean I can’t have that kind of life anyway.
I am in charge here. I can break the cycle. I have kids who know I’d drop anything for them, and I will carry that through to when they are grown and out of my house. I will never miss an important event in their lives, I’ll babysit the hell out of their kids, I’ll drop off groceries when they are struggling. If they say they don’t need me, I’ll be there anyway because that’s what family does for each other. Without strings, or reminders, or guilt trips.
Maybe having the upbringing I’ve had, and the parents I do, was a lesson for me to see how I never want to be. Maybe it’s made me tough for reasons I don’t even know about yet
It doesn’t have to make sense. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself at this point — I’m in my mid-40s and they aren’t going to change.
All I can do is give my kids that same sense of security my best friend has. I know I’m capable of that, and my children deserve the kind of mom who shows up. Always.
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