Monday, November 15, 2010


My cousin lost her little boy on July 28, 2010. 

Ethan had an accident at home. He was rushed to Fresno and we got word that the prognosis was good. That he would be okay. And then, all of a sudden, my sister was calling me at work saying that he had passed. 

I did not know Ethan. 

I spent time with my family, I went to the funeral and the reception afterward. I cried for my cousins loss. I cried for my family, I ached for them. And I felt a huge, overwhelming surge of guilt. 

All I can think about right now and every time I have thought about this, is how DARE I. How can I possibly make it about me and my guilt. If I was my cousin, I would slap me. How could I talk about this guilt when I cannot even begin to know what she feels, what she and her family is living on a day to day basis?

Unfortunately, I am human. And I can't help it.

For a brief period of time during my childhood, my cousins and I were close. My grandma and grandpa had four girls. Each girl got married and had kids. There were twelve cousins, and for a while we were as close as we possibly could be. We spent time at each others houses during the summer, we got together over at our grandparents. Our parents would hang out together. 

But, through all of that, my immediate family was living a lie. My Dad is an alcoholic. I always say that his alcoholism is marked by my lifespan. He drank before I was born, but it became a serious issue when I came around and got worse as I grew. My Dad is not a functioning alcoholic. He is a binge drinker. 

So, his "problem" would cause us to lie to our family. And maybe they knew, maybe not. But it tended to make us feel like the black sheep of the family. It made us all alienate ourselves from people. We couldn't invest in any relationships, because we were all just trying to survive the emotional roller-coaster that was our life. 

The canyon between our family and my mom's family widened over the years. All of the cousins were still close, they all lived within ten minutes of each other. Now, this is only speaking for myself, but I felt displaced among my family. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am awkward at making relationships. I feel vulnerable and I have always had a huge fear of rejection. So, for a lot of family functions I would take a book and just try to stay out of the way. I couldn't find my place with my family. 

Then, when my parents separated, I was fifteen. When they were divorcing, I was sixteen. I was sixteen and I would come home and have to make my mom eat. I watched her almost fade away. I was angry at the world. I partied. I didn't talk to my father. My sisters were gone. I lost myself in boyfriends. I lost my Vavo. I stopped trying in school. I got my first job. It was a crazy time in my life. And as I remember it (which my memory is not the best, as I'm sure you well know) the only person that was there for my mom was one of my aunts. Ethan's grandma. 

During that time, I came to have a great distaste for my mom's family. I begged my mom to let me skip weddings and birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes she would let me stay home. Most times she made me go. I felt like an outsider. I was angry and bitter. I wanted my Mom's families support. I wanted her to have people to talk to. I felt like the least my aunts could do was to BE there. I knew, and know to this day, that my sisters would be there. No matter what. There wouldn't even be a hesitation. I saw my extended families absence as proof that they didn't love her or us. And I was ready to cross them off my list, forever. 

I continued to pull away. As soon as I was out of school I stopped going to family functions. It helped because for quite a while, my own Mother and I weren't talking. I pushed them all out of my family and out of my heart. I felt like our family was the black sheep in the family, and that their inaction made it clear and made me RIGHT.

I told my Mom that I just didn't 'fit in'. And that they were unwelcoming. I would only give exception to Ethan's grandma, because I respected her for being there for my Mom. For inviting my mom over and helping her through a time that I didn't understand and couldn't deal with.  I felt like Grandma and Grandpa were out of touch and the language barrier was too difficult. I felt unloved.

My cousins grew up, got married, and had babies. My aunt's became grandmothers. My cousins were mothers. All of a sudden we were all grown up and everyone was going their own way, and I was fine with letting them go. I was okay with letting my family do their thing and creating my own family. 

For my wedding, a lot of pretty bad stuff happened between me and my aunts. It was, to me, validation of how I was treated different from their other nieces and nephews. Words were exchanged that could never been taken back, only wished away. I was done. It was the last straw. And I didn't lose a moments rest about it. 

Until Ethan. 

I didn't know Ethan. And I didn't know him because I let a whole lot of emotion push me away. I never gave myself the chance of getting to know my cousins. I never gave them the opportunity to get to know me. I never even explained how I was feeling, and I never gave them a chance to tell me I was being dumb. And for that, I didn't know my second cousin. Holding onto that resentment made me miss Christmases and Thanksgivings. It made me stay away from my family. I lost time with all of them, especially my Grandma and Grandpa, who are not getting any younger, if you know what I mean. 

I could barely hide my guilt and shame as I walked into my cousins house. I could barely stop myself from tearing up and telling her that I was so, unbelievably sorry for not knowing her little boy. For not taking the time to get to know her family. But I did, because I knew that this was not about me. This was about something so much bigger than me. 

A few nights ago, we all went over to my grandparents house for pizza, and Ethan's mom told us the happy news that they are expecting a baby. There were tears and "I can't believe it!s" and an overwhelming sense of joy and hope. 

I am reminded all the time that God is faithful. That my God is a giving God. He is all about love, kindness and second chances. He forgives. 

I may not have known Ethan, and for that I will always be sad and sorrier than I can explain. But Ethan gave me a gift. He taught me one of the biggest lessons that I have ever had to learn. And while I would do anything to not have learned it this way, Ethan taught me that family is necessary and permanent. Family is worth fighting for. Family needs to be more than just coming together at times of great happiness or tragedy. 

Family is worth the effort. So, although I have my own little family now, and we have our own traditions, I plan on getting plugged into my family as much as I can. 


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