Family Thanksgiving

I feel connected and complete. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I spent time with my aunt and two cousins whom I have not seen in over 40 years. And I saw my brother and sister. The occasion was attending the memorial for my uncle who transitioned in September. Uncle Proctor and Aunt Patsy lived in Wilmington, Ohio. This is roughly one hour north of Cincinnati which is on the border of Kentucky. The Cincinnati, CVG, airport is in Hebron, Kentucky.

Awakening at 1:30am on Thanksgiving morning to catch the 2:15am shuttle to Phoenix for the 6am flight was the start of my weekend adventure. When I made the reservations in October, I puzzled over the expensive airfare into CVG. I found cheaper flights on the Thursday before December 1, not realizing until two weeks later that it was Thanksgiving Day. The airports were not busy, and I had no problems with the flight, the car rental or the drive to the nursing home where I joined my cousins Sue and Nan, Aunt Patsy and Susan’s son, Matt, for a takeout Thanksgiving dinner. We ate in a small apartment that the nursing home provided for visiting family members. No microwave so the food was not hot, but it was yummy. I shared how my diet had changed after being vegan for 4½ years.

Sue, Nan and I shared primarily about our current life situations and what concerns we have regarding our adult children and aging mothers. Our mothers are both 88 and have dementia. Susan has been a widow for 17 years and is currently dealing with breast cancer which has metastasized to her bones although it is still breast cancer. She is on chemotherapy for two weeks and then off for one week. On the Wednesday before I traveled, I got my hair cut and my hairdresser gave me Shirley Temple ringlets. I was wearing my glasses on Thanksgiving and explained to everyone that this was not what I looked like. The next day when I wore my contacts and had fixed my hair and Susan spent time with me without her wig, we agreed that we were now our real selves.

Our mothers were best friends in high school. That is how my mom met my dad. Susan is 3 months older than me so they were pregnant at the same time with us. Aunt Patsy was especially close to my father, Jack. Their birth mother died when my dad was 6 and Aunt Patsy was 3. Sue and Nan gave us a set of old pictures which included pictures of our parents and Uncle Bill’s birth mother, Gertrude. She bares a striking resemblance to my older daughter, Nicole.

My brother, John flew in from Vermont on Saturday and within a short time we picked up our sister Maggie who flew in from Wisconsin. They both have children who are 12 and/or 13 and were relishing traveling solo. At dinner on Saturday night the cousins and Matt (sans Aunt Patsy) all shared about the relationships we had with our parents and about the times we remembered spending time together. My siblings and I shared about the pain we experienced as a result of our mother’s mental illness and her brutality. In the early 80’s our father came out to us as gay. His absence during our childhood had contributed to the sense of abandonment the three of us shared and dealt with us as adults. It was a bonding experience and I am grateful for it.

The next day was Sunday and the memorial. It was at Wilmington College, the Quaker college where my uncle taught Mathematics and MIS for many years. Music played and Sue, Matt and Nan shared about my uncle. He was one of five professors that were very good friends and whose families grew up together. Three children of these professors shared about growing up being a part of group and how welcome they had always felt at the Deans. People had come from out of town to attend the memorial including the adult children that shared. It was a lovely event. Aunt Patsy told Nan that she understood that the memorial was for Proctor and that she misses him. She told me that too and I agreed that I miss him and miss my father, Jack.

Spending time with Maggie and John was great fun. We shared a hotel room and lay in bed Saturday night laughing and talking about our children. We each have three and relate that to being one of three. Monday morning the adventure continued as I arose at 3:30am to travel back home to become immediately engulfed in my work life.

The surreal experience of re-establishing family ties comforted me at a basic level. I have texted with Matt and know that our connection will include more phone calls and visits. This feels especially important considering our aging parents and Susan’s illness. I appreciate the opportunity to process this through writing this newsletter article. Thank you, for allowing me to share this with you.

— Marya Wheeler

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