Feeling Lonely in a Family
What happens when we don’t remind our relatives that they’re never alone?
I smell cigarette smoke on my hand and think of my grandfather. He’s been dead for at least five years. I can see him standing at the door of his double-wide trailer, watching me pull out of the driveway. It was the last time I saw alive. He wasn’t working anymore. He wasn’t going anywhere. He stopped taking his blood pressure medicine. He was lonely.
A neighbor noticed my grandfather’s trash hadn’t been taken out, a punctual thing he performed. After knocking on the door, the neighbor found a window he could push through to get inside. My grandfather had had a heart attack.
I remember getting the phone call on a Saturday night. I was at a Sharon Van Etten concert with my wife and a friend. The call came from my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Geneva, another relative who I imagine is lonely.
Aunt Geneva lives in East Texas in a house she shared with her husband until he died. I had not seen her for several years until my grandfather’s funeral. We caught up, exchanged addresses, and I failed to reply to the Christmas cards she sent.
I should call my grandfather’s other relatives to see how Aunt Geneva is doing. Or, I could call her. What if she’s dead? That would be another family member whose relationship I let lapse into loneliness.
You could say I’m not responsible for another person’s loneliness. What if they’re family? Shouldn’t we as children, siblings, or parents remind our relatives that they’re never alone?
Maybe we all die lonely. Sure, there are times when a loved one is surrounded by family and friends as she is dying. But she is alone in passing. It’s a journey only she can experience. Even if more than one person dies at a time, it’s still an individual process.
The cigarette smoke smell has made me think of death much more than I have in the past year. Even having friends die suddenly over the last few months hasn’t had the same effect. Maybe it was because I didn’t last see them looking at me in a doorway. I didn’t see how lonely they may have been and still did nothing about it.
There are those who have close families. A child may speak to his parents at least once a week. This is not my family. We are what I’d call a holiday family, getting together and catching up at end-of-year gatherings. We talk a bit throughout the year, but just enough to know we are all still alive.
I keep going back to the word “lonely.” Maybe if I say it enough it won’t hold any meaning. I can speak it out of existence. But talking about it too much is the same as ignoring it. Talking about it is just that. There is no doing anything about it.
Am I lonely? In a way, yes. I’m lonely as anyone who hasn’t quite grasped what their life is for or who they really are. For some, family is their life. It’s their identity. Our family, though, consists of separate personalities who get along with each other. We’re okay with that, or at least it’s implied. We’ve never said that was how we’d function together.
Maybe we need to talk more, express more, or else we’ll all each be standing alone in a doorway one day watching someone drive away.