Friends and families

I just heard a poet on the radio read a loving poem about his dead mother, and I wished I could write a loving poem about my dead mother. When she passed away 23 years ago, I grieved intensely for sixteen months. Every night, she would come in dreams, and we would know such happiness as we had never known in real life. Then I would remember that she was dead, and she would recede into the darkness, leaving me to awaken in tears. After those sixteen months, the anger came and never left. It is still my only connection to her.

Peggy had told me years earlier that my mother treated me badly, but I couldn’t see it. Or rather I could see it, but I had spent so many decades telling myself that she didn’t mean the hurtful things she said, that I couldn’t let myself believe it.

While the poet was on the radio, a caller said that her own mother died in 1971, but that the grief is as fresh as if she had died yesterday. People often say that you should get over your grief in twelve months, but I don’t think it ever ends. It might morph, like mine did, but I hardly feel “over it.” It just takes up less of my time. After my mother died, three months passed during which I never felt a moment of joy. Then I was touring the Duluth, Minnesota, train museum one wintry day when it hit me that several minutes had gone by during which I hadn’t felt sad about losing my mother. The realization taught me that I still had the capacity for joy, and that I could expect to feel it for longer periods.

The good thing about your parents dying is that you don’t have to put up with them anymore. The bad thing is that everything that bothered you about them is frozen in time so that, if you work it out, you work it out alone.

I have a half brother who doesn’t want to know me, and a half sister to whom I am a mostly a penpal. I also have a full sister, but I haven’t spoken to her in the fifteen years since our father died. She abandoned him, so he left her out of his will. She expected me to share his meager estate anyway, but I would have burned it first. The truth of the matter is that we never liked one another, so it isn’t my sister I miss but the idea of having a sister. The same is true of my parents.

My half sister, Anne, envies me because I grew up in a home that had two parents, while she was raised by an uncle who treated her like an object of charity. I meanwhile, envy Anne because she was at least raised by people who didn’t hate one another, and because she had an extended family of other aunts and uncles who loved her and for whom she has fond memories. Oddly, some of my fondest “family” memories are of those very people, yet I was only around them for a week one summer.

I had but one uncle and one aunt of my own. The uncle, I didn’t know, and the aunt and her brother—my father—disliked one another, so her six children consequently disliked me. Things would have been easier had they not been the only other children in my rural neighborhood.

When I was a young man, I imagined that I would create a family from among my friends to supplement my own small and troubled family, but what I found about friends was that when holidays rolled around, they spent them with their blood relatives, leaving Peggy and me alone—unless, of course, she went away to see her own parents and sisters in which case I was really alone. True, my friends might talk about their relatives as if they were the worst people in the world, but when holidays came they went to them, and this made me wonder how close we really were. I also noticed that friends have a way of moving across the country and losing touch.

I turned to dogs for family with some success. The best thing about dogs is that they won’t abandon you. The worst thing is that they’re like perpetual children that need taking care of their whole lives long without ever being able to take care of you. Bonnie and Baxter became significant liabilities after my recent surgeries because they still needed their daily walks and grooming even when it was cold and muddy and my belly had been split open, or I couldn’t put on my coat because my arm was in a sling five inches in front of my body.

Another attempt I made at family was the Masons and the IOOF. There is much to be said for such fraternities, but the people you meet there are no more likely to care about you than are the people you meet anywhere else. My fraternities were founded for the express purpose of serving as extended family, and the members even call one another brother and sister, but it is a mistake to take these things too seriously.

I would feel worse about my inability to maintain close ties with family or friends over the decades if Peggy didn’t have the same problem. I can’t see how it is her fault, and this leads me to think that life is just that way. I’ve known people who I imagined to have a lot of friends, but when I became their friend, I learned that I was wrong or that their friends, like my own, tended to drift away after a few months or years.

Right up through college, friendship came easily. But maybe that was because I didn’t mistrust people back then. Now, I never assume that a relationship will last.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

People are complicated. Life is complicated. I am an only child, and have always been happy to be so. A wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful, wise, funny, witty, older brother or sister might have been nice, but what are the odds I could find someone to meet all those requirements???

Wonderful parents, wonderful husband, wonderful dogs and wonderful friends. I am fortunate.

Teresa said...

I have the same issues when it comes to friendships. I meet alot of great people who in the end expect a different level of commitment than they are willing to give. The world is a selfish place. It's sad. My best friends are my sisters who don't even live in the same state. I've learned to just enjoy friendships while they last and try to be the friend I want to find. Hopefully one day, I'll find a "normal" person. Until then...Rum helps! ha!

Diana said...

The best friend I've ever had is my husband. I have other friends, but not like that. And I think that it's wonderful Snow, that you and Peggy have each other.
Love Di

ellen abbott said...

I didn't have much of a relationship with my mother. She was selfish and self centered and couldn't give me what I needed as a child. Eventually I learned to distance myself from her emotionally. When she died, I was surprisingly affected. Finally I realized that it wasn't my mother I mourned, it was the death of any hope of having the mother I wanted.

I also looked for family in friends but it just isn't the same or possible. People come into your lives, stay for awhile and then pass out of your life. the only ones who are connected forever are bloodlines whether they give us what we need or not. so learn to enjoy the people who come into your life for however long and when your lives diverge look forward to knowing the next ones to come in.

lakeviewer said...

Yes, life is complicated and people have many needs. You ended up whole and self supported; more than most kids who were neglected. We all have to work at making our world a better one than what we received.

Marion said...

Snow, I guess I'm lucky because I still have my mother. She's 80 and fairly healthy. My father died when I was 6 and even though this did seriously affect my life, I had an uncle during my formative years who was a great father figure. I've often wondered what my life would have been like had my father lived. Interestings, thoughtful post. Blessings!

nollyposh said...

i have friends that are family and family that are friends... It's all just perception in my book... One friend i have i see only once or twice a year, but when we do catch up it's like we just spoke yesterday, my husband thinks that's weird, but i recon relationships come in all shapes and sizes... My Dad for instance loved me but couldn't bear to have me love him too much, weird? Not if you understand the relationship that he had with his mother: She suffocated him with an unhealthy love ...
One thing i have found to be important though is that you find an outlet for your pain... When my Dad died too young, i was so angry that i wrote letters and made art and burned things and found ways to scream it out loud, then one day when the tears had subsided a little i found the pain in my heart had eased too...
One thing i do understand is that hurt can be held in your body and re-surfaces as physical pain... And i believe too that all illness has a mind, body & spirit element and so all three area's need to be addressed, not just the physical alone... That's why i am currently seeing a Bowen therapist who is, quite spiritual too, so as she helps to heal my body we reach into not just the physical pain but also the emotional & spiritual too...
(Am i talking too much again!?!)

i'd like to think we are friends Snowbrush... Can i call you snow? *wink*

nollyposh said...

(Ps) i love so much that your mum came back to you in your dreams... That's a mighty powerful ~Love~ in my book x

Sonia ;) said...

Snow...I think we twins...

I have all the same problems and have thought the same way about my siblings, parents and death think it was easier to trust when I was a kid...then the tri-state attitude kicked in and no one trusted anyone...Hugs..cuz I know you like them you in pain, loner like ME...LOL


Sonia ;) said...

PS...keep kicking me in the ass

rhymeswithplague said...

My mother died 52 years ago and I still haven't gotten over it.

I too am an only child, or was until my father remarried when I was 17 and I suddenly became the middle one of five children. I still haven't gotten over that either.

Snow, you are one of the most honest writers I know, and I will continue visiting your blog until I am no longer able.

CreekHiker said...

Snow, My father died 35 years ago and the pain has shaped who I am. I know I put a distance between myself and those that love me because I know I will lose them.

I have the same issues with family and friends as you....I think it's just the human condition. We are born alone. We die alone.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this poem by Philip Larkin,

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I can relate. It seems like the world is made up of two halves: those with close family ties, and those of us who are orphans in one sense or another. We all deal with long-term forms of emptiness, whether it's lack of family or funds or health... sometimes many things that make us want to fill a void (or learn to cope with it gracefully). Maybe loneliness and isolation are universal because even when we surround ourselves with noise, distraction, people, and activity, real fulfillment seems very fleeting. It is why we give thanks for those moments when we do feel complete, joyful, connected, hopeful... Contentment and peace are hard won. Maybe deprivation compels us to live fully when the opportunities come around.

In any case, I've experienced those things you discuss in your post: attempts to connect with groups to replace the family I miss, cultivation of deep friendships that sometimes leave me wanting... I think my own strategy is to have as many friends as I can so that each fills a certain need, and I for them. Many coins make a full pocket. At least that's how I feel on optimistic days.


Marion said...


This is one of the most honest posts I've ever read. My mother died two years ago, my father three. My daughter died almost 11 years ago.

Before the death of my daughter, there were three close friends who died. I thought my friends' deaths were horrible, I thought I would never get over them. But the death of my daughter overshadows all of them.

And now, I put up barriers when I meet people, as well. When those barriers are sensed by others, they back off, too. It's a never-ending cycle.

Thank you for this very evocative post.

geek said...

For some reason, reading your post gave me a feeling of melancholy. At some point, I could see what you were writing about. I grew up in different "families" -- meaning I was left anywhere possible (my grandparents, my aunts, some people paid to take care of me). Still feels different to have a mom and a pop around.

My mom is still alive though, luckily. I can see how hard she's trying to re-connect what was lost. Same as my dad, but the thing is, there wasn't anything lost since we were never close.

As for the friends, I know what you mean. One moment I thought I found the greatest best friend I've ever had -- someone who really understands me -- the next thing I know, we're drifting apart from each other.

I've sought solace, also, in different organizations. But as you also realized, and I just figured out recently, they're not enough. Still, something is missing.

I don't know. I'm still young. I still don't know how to break this loneliness, emptiness and disconnection from the world. To tell you the truth, I've been looking but I can't seem to find that "something" (forgive the vagueness, but I have yet to find out what it is) to fill this void within me.

Life can sometimes be a bitch, as my friend says.

Perhaps you've had coping ways of your own?

Snowbrush said...

Ananji, I thought of you when I wrote this because of your grief over your brother and the advice given to you that a year should suffice to get it out of your system. Different friends for different needs makes sense, but I like those best who are there for me when I have a physical need (and no, I don't mean sex!) such as when Peggy had to go away a few weeks after my last surgery. Whatever their faults, I they're solid, and I like that a lot better than I like glitzy. It also makes me want to be there for them to repay my indebtedness, and to earn their loyalty.

Not Waving But Drowning, you have such a sad name for such a lovely blog--I rather like that. I also liked the Philip Larkin poem. Indeed, my father often advised me to never have children, saying that he was awfully sorry that no one gave him such advice.

Creekhiker, if death were the only way, or even the main way, that I lost friends, I would put no distance between them and me because of it. I've had quite a few to die by now, and I would not have traded a one of them for the grief their deaths brought. It is the ones by whom I feel abandoned or betrayed without reason that leave the deepest wounds and make it the hardest to trust.

Rhymes, if you will continue visiting my blog until you are no longer able, I can but hope that you will be able for a long, long time, maybe even until I can no longer write it. Like two rusty old ships, we might luck out and sink together.

Sonia says, "keep kicking me in the ass." And I say: Oooh, baby, I'll make it hurt so good! Of course, if you're right, and we ARE twins, I'll still keep kicking, but it will seem a little (okay, a lot) kinkier, don't you think, Sis?

Nollyposh, you think my mother came back in my dreams literally? Of course, it shouldn't even surprise me that you would think that. You and I are very different cats. You believe so much with, it seems to me, so little reason, yet it makes you happy, and you hurt no one, and you even have a certain evangelistic zeal about it. Viva la difference! As far as you talking too much, please talk exactly as much as you please. No one has ever yet come close to making a comment that I considered anywhere near too long, yet you are not the first to express concern. I like you, and I welcome you, and I am always interested in what you have to say.

Marion, I am so glad you had an uncle to be your substitute dad. That's how families should work.

Lakeviewer, you are right in that I ended up whole, at least in that I have a sense of who I am. I was surprised to learn that not everyone does.

Ellen Abbott, your regret over missing the possibility of having a mother as opposed to missing the actual mother you lost certainly rings a bell. Yes, we are always tied to family in a sense, but, as with my sister, it seems more to our shared childhood (we are the only living ones who grew up in that household) and to our mutual animosity. I suspect that our history is more important to our ties than our shared genes.

Diana, you are a lucky woman to have your husband as a best friend. Of course, you know that.

Teresa, often siblings move closer to one another when they get old, especially if they don't have children, or the children they do have live at a distance. Age brings vulnerability, and that brings the need to be near someone you can trust. Maybe someday, you and yours will do the same. Peggy's sisters are also at a great distance from her and from one another, and that's hard for her. She is only close to one of the two though.

Pamela, I am glad you have a good family, but am surprised you liked being an only child. My sister and I were five years apart, so I was an only child in one sense, but I always wished I had an older brother.

KC said...

This post hit home as far as friends are concerned. I had a "friend' for over 50 years that I finally realized was no friend at all. I am lucky to have a best friend in my husband, a close family and several newer friends that I appreciate having in my life.
I think the key is to understand some friends are meant to be in your life for shorter chapters than others and not to grieve when that particular chapter comes to an end. I now know that when a person brings more unhappiness than happiness it is best to walk away.
You are right about the dogs. They are liabilities, but they repay us in so many ways that the trouble is well worth it to me.
Thanks once again for the thought provoking post.

Rikkij said...

Snowman- sounds like life to me. These are the kind of thoughts that come from work in solitude. Perhaps woodsplitting. I wish you restoration. Life is short. ~rick

Mim said...

Hey Snow - yes, a very powerful and honest post.
I started going to a therapist last year, one reason was that I knew my Dad wouldn't make it thru the year and I needed a way to work thru some tough stuff before he passed away. I did get to work on many issues, not necessarily with him but just within myself. It's not that my grief was any less when he did pass, but I could handle it better. I was glad I did it. Mom is still alive, but I should probably start therapy now to deal with my issues with her - even though I truly love my mom, she was not a good mom in many ways. Dad has only visited me once in a dream, and I'm kinda pissed about that and wish he would visit more.

Friends. Oy. We've had tons of friends in our lives who I thought were like family. Then slowly but surely, they either married, or died or moved away, or had kids. If they married, they gravitated towards the wifes family. Moving away, = we stay in touch for years but that is too hard. Kids really screw up a couple's relationship unless you adore the kids and are close to them. Dead...I can't do much about that. We figure that we will have to form a commune where our childless friends will congregate to live together - cause if you don't have kids you are basically screwed in this country.

I may not be making sense, it's early in the morning - but I do relate to this post.

JOE TODD said...

I have some pretty good friends I play golf with but from time to time we all cheat when it comes to scoring.Whether it be friends or family isn't that the way life is?I have heard it said "one should keep their friends close but their enimies closer" Have a great day Snow

Reuben said...

Why no children?

Renee said...

I felt sad ready this. But more than anything I appreciated the honesty.

I think you are an incredible writer. I really could read anything you write.

Thank you dear friend for being sorry that Sheldon died.

Love Renee xoxo

kj said...

i don't know what to say. i've read every word of your post and your comments. i can't help thinking about the difference between 'lonely' and 'alone'.

i am blessed with a good family and good friends. i feel loved and i love deeply back. i have a partner of 25 years and i know she loves me. i trust her. i have two or three friends i trust and i believe they would watch my back if they could. i would do that for them too. and my daughter: i would gladly die for her.

and yet....i know i am alone. i know i can lose what i have. and last year my heart was broken in a way i did not expect and could not believe. it involved a friend and soulmate i adored. i trusted her. she tired of my needs and wishes, left with disgust and with contempt. i'm not sure i will ever fully heal from what feels like a core betrayal.

but still, snow, i prefer to let my heart grieve, and to believe i will love wider and deeper in the future. i am on the lookout for good people, good friends. some stay, some go. but i remain open. i'm glad of that. and i know when to walk.

you are an honest man, snowbrush. i believe you to be a good friend. i hope someone finds you exactly as that, or you find him/her.

xoxo said...

What an honest and deep thinking post. My Mum was my best friend, and I was lucky to have that. Both my parents are dead now, and I miss them all the time, it is something that i have learnt to live with, that and many other losses in life. Loss is an inevitable part of living.
You are right about issues that become frozen, when they have gone there is no way of putting anything right.
I think everyone takes their own time to grieve. some may take years, some months. there is no wrong or right. No black or white, just millions of shades of grey!

Suzie. x

julie mitchell said...

My mother's death left me in a deep, deep depression too...adding to it was my ex-husband graciously telling me that he would give me a couple of weeks to get overit....craziness...
My mother loved to go on cruises and came to me often in dreams...she would be wearing a brown velvet bikini while cruising the world...she would tell me everything was wonderful and not to worry so much....My mother never wore a bikini in her life.

Family...I love them...
complicated, yes...friends, family of another kind, but not so tricky...I love them too.
hug, hug

kylie said...

hi snow
i dont make a whole lot of friends and there are none who i see on a really regular basis.
family are the people who i really rely on when i need something, so it's a good thing my brother and sister are both close by. having said that i'm not especially close to either of them either, it's just a matter of us all making it a priority to help the others when neccessary.

you said something on your last comment to me that you vainly want folks to read more than one post...
i read right back to pros and cons

so there

Snowbrush said...

KC, you are indeed lucky that your husband is your best friend. Diana said the same. I agree with you about dogs being worth the trouble--as least MOST of the time.

Rikkij, many of my thoughts come out of solitude because I work alone and I see see fewer people than I used to on a social basis as well. Being alone so much does give one a different perspective.

Mim, I too have thought about forming a childless person's commune when I get old(er). I very much enjoy children, but I don't enjoy being with adults whose lives are centered around their children and grandchildren.

Joe, I don't play golf, but I do hear about people cheating, and I never know whether to take it seriously.

Reuben, I never wanted to have children.

Renee said, "I really could read anything you write." Thank you, Renee, but how many external hard drives do you actually own?

KJ, I know a little about the loss, if not the betrayal, of your friend last year. I lost a friend of 22 years this year without a harsh word being spoken. He simply stopped seeing me after my surgery in March. He was the person I counted on most, yet he was the friend who did absolutely nothing.

Itch2stitch, thank you so much for coming round. I'm sorry you lost your parents, but very glad that you had such a loving relationship with them.

Julie, I loved hearing about your brown velvet bikini dreams, but not about your husband giving you two weeks to grieve. He feared that anything more would disrupt his life, I suppose.

Kylie, it seems that people often depend upon family members that they're not really close to. Funny how that works. Thank you for browsing around the back shelves where the dust settles and few people ever venture.

julie mitchell said...

It did disrupt his life...two weeks later I escorted him out of our home and out of my life....
To this day he doesn't understand...

Art of the Artifice said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog! I heart will always be in Eugene, even as I begin working and living in Portland. I look forward to reading more of yours :)

Gaston Studio said...

You hit the nail on the head with your reference "frozen in time" as that is definitely what happens when a parent or parents die at an early age... and there is still "things" to be resolved.

This happened to me when I was in my 30s and it's taken me quite some time, but I finally figured out why my mother seems to dislike me so much and now I can sleep at night.

Great post, as usual, Snow.

Just_because_today said...

When I was young my mother said that friendship was elusive and that true friends could be counted in one hand with fingers left. I vowed to prove her wrong. I never have. I, however, remain hopeful and always look for that friend who will be there for me the way I am there for them.
Maybe one day, till then I will keep trying.

Mariana Soffer said...

I think in those situations you just do what you can, and what you did I think is a lot given the cirumstances.I always try not to claim myself for things of the past, I think it only hurts me more and makes me loose my self esteem fast. The only think I could do when my father died, was listen to one radiohead ablum for 6 month in a row, stay in bed, dont cry, and be angry with the world.

Cheer up, we do the best we can, and remember that is good enough!

Lille Diane said...

I am not close with my blood family. I was a foster kid. My Foster Mom is my best friend. No one has ever loved me like her. I'm fortunate to still have her. I'm going to go visit her in a week. She is the most amazing person I've ever known. I am so blessed.

Lydia said...

I never wanted to have children either. I think many people have them thinking they will care for them in their old age. There's no guarantee of that happening, although that is certainly what I did for my mother who died in 2000. My half-sister with whom I was raised has a family and is as much a hermit as I, so the last time we saw one another was eight years ago. My half-brothers with whom I was not raised keep in touch via email.
Recently my husband's large family has come out of the woodwork, after four years of little or no communication. They are nuts and I'm sorry they are back. I absolutely do not trust them and intend to keep my distance this time. My husband needs some contact with them and that's understandable, and I appreciate that he honors my need to remain aloof.
Through all the muck I have found the best woman friend in my life via my blog! She's a teacher in Vienna and our friendship clicked almost immediately. We're a lot alike. I trust her completely and can't wait to travel to Austria one day to spend actual time with her. I've learned that a best friend doesn't have to necessarily be someone who is even on the same continent!