Ram Dass famously quipped: “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
Recently, my first-husband’s 96-year-old matriarch (Grandma Lou) informed me: “There are no ‘exes’ in this family. Once you’re a part of our family, you’re always one of our family.”
(Which woulda sounded sorta Godfatherish, if not for her thick Wisconsin accent.)
And so, for the first time in more than a decade, I spent Thanksgiving week in WI with my family…and also with my ex-husband’s family.
The teens and I doused our Midwest road trip with delight: Pale Waves at a nightclub in Cincinnati; improv comedy at iO Theater in Chicago; a tour and tasting at Sprecher’s in Milwaukee; a visit to the curmudgeonly Chocolate Nazi; hours of late-nite gaming (pinball, arcade, 300 board games, 2000 console games, and a Virtual Reality room) at Victory Pointe in Pittsburg.
We connected with one of my dearest friends in Shorewood. We spent a few days with my folks in Slinger. We enjoyed a 20-person feast and sleepover with my brother’s family in Neenah.
And for the first time since his traumatic brain injury — which occurred on the last day, of their last visit, last summer – Josh and Xander saw their grandfather (Grumps).
They were nervous…but walked away feeling lightened. They’d imagined the worst…but witnessed his spark within. They’d dreaded what to talk about…but laughed so much, that they forgot to worry.
Our culture struggles with aging. People “don’t deserve” a difficult diagnosis. People “lose” their “battles” with cancer.
Dying scares us.
But the truth is, we’re all terminal. No amount of fundraisers or ribbon races will change that. The only control we have is over our willingness to be present to whatever is.
We visited Grumps on Friday, because Grandma Lou has been delivering her home-baked goodies to the same nursing home every Friday for the past 17 years.
Neem Karoli Baba once said: “Feed the people Love through food.”
Grandma Lou began baking when the facility first housed her aging mother, and she continued giving thanks via treats after her mom passed. Years later, her husband was admitted to their dementia wing, and she kept on baking after he departed. Now her son (my boys’ grandfather) lives there, following his TBI.
Her willingness to show-up and face life’s uncertainties, to be present with those in the midst of difficult realities, is an example I’m honored to be able to share with my teens.
Family relations can be challenging, burdened with unrealistic expectations…and undeserving disappointments.
None of Thanksgiving week with my family (or my “exes”) would have been possible without the passage of time and the grace of forgiveness.
I’m so very grateful for all of it.