I wrote this, because I needed to. I share it, because maybe you need it too.
I didn’t really want to be in your family. I didn’t want my parents to get divorced. I didn’t want my dad to get remarried.
I had a good life. I had family that I loved. I didn’t want anymore.
But that’s not ever how it works with family. Aside from possibly one person, you don’t get to choose who your family is or when you will gain or lose them.
And, one day in June 2009, I got a whole slew of family members that I didn’t choose.
I remember the day well. My dad, aunt, and I were sitting in Corner Cafe waiting for all the guests to arrive, and the next 15 minutes were like watching all the random characters in an 80s sitcom walk into the room.
There were these teenagers with multi-colored hair; one even had a mohawk! They were followed in by their mom and dad, not too far in front of their Aunt Annie and Uncle Chris.
Within minutes, the party room went from nearly silent to, “OH MY GOD, I can’t hear myself think!”
I felt outnumbered. Everyone seemed so happy. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t necessarily sad either. I was just there.
I looked at my Uncle David and wished my cousin John could have come. At least then, I’d have someone to talk to. Someone who knew me. Someone who would not judge me for feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
The room was packed and I knew 5 people – an introvert’s nightmare.
And that first Christmas, that’s all I could think of. The overwhelming feeling of being in a room full of people I didn’t know talking a mile-a-minute and not knowing how to feel happy about it.
I tried to prepare myself and say that it would be OK. I tried to be the sweet, even keel little girl that my dad expected me to be, but it hurt too much.
That first Christmas when you, Annie, and Pat walked through the kitchen door, once again increasing the volume 20-fold… I felt trapped.
I excused myself quietly and went up to “my room” to go cry for a good solid 10 minutes until I heard someone say, “Where’s Emily?” at which point, I powdered my nose and came back downstairs to join the “family.”
This routine lasted for at least one more Christmas and possibly two Thanksgivings. And, I’m pretty sure that was my own private memory until now.
But the thing is, it wasn’t y’all. You all are great. Awesome as far as family goes.
It’s just hard being 21-years-old and coming home to a whole new family. Having people walk through your door, reminding you that your parents aren’t together anymore. That your life really really isn’t going to be the same again. When there are more people in the room who’ve only known you a short time than the ones who held you as a baby… It sucks!
And add to it that the majority in the room are extroverts – makes it difficult to find where you fit in this new group of people.
But Chris – I think there’s something you should know.
Eventually, I stopped crying. Eventually, it stopped being so hard to see you all coming through the door. Eventually, I even got excited about it.
You should know that it’s because of you that Christmas felt like a family time again. Because you listened. You asked. You cared. Because, in the midst of all the busyness and noise, you still maintained the same, even, peaceful presence. You helped me feel calm.
I think you should know that just by being you, you helped the world stop spinning around me. You helped me be present. You helped me love and cherish this new family – even despite my apprehensions.
And, in this month where we give thanks, I couldn’t be more grateful for you.
Which is why it hurts so much that you are in so much pain. It’s not fair that one of the nicest, calmest, most peaceful people in the world should have to endure so much hurt and sickness. It’s not fair that one of the most dedicated and loyal care-givers should have to spend so much time being cared for. It’s not fair that someone I’ve come to hold so close is going to be taken from me sooner rather than later… or so the doctor says.
Cancer has to be the worst thing of all time. Just when it gives you the faintest glimmer of hope, it snatches it away again, and you have to watch as one person you love has his stomach broken and many others have their hearts broken.
Chris, I know that if you were to make a list of favorite nieces, I would rank dead last. I know that I don’t always seem like the most vulnerable of everyone in this crazy family of ours, but if there’s only one more thing I ever get to say to you, let it be this:
I’m glad you’re my uncle.
And I’m sorry for not saying so sooner.