Monday, July 23, 2018

Communication-Disabled Relatives

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 25, 2018] ©2018

I was thrilled to see my cousin Sandy’s email address pop up in my In-Box.  What’s Sandy up to? I wondered. 
Turns out, not much. The email was sent to everyone in Sandy’s address book from a friend of hers announcing the date and time of Sandy’s funeral.
From this, I could only conclude she died.
To say that my relatives on my mother’s side are the worst communicators on the planet would be an understatement.  What’s sad is that I always adored these people.  Some of my happiest childhood memories involve them.  But trying to maintain any sort of contact with them is an exercise in futility.  When they want something, you hear from them.  If you want something, like an answer to an invitation to a family event: crickets. 
With way more effort than I would normally expend, I finally managed to contact one of Sandy’s siblings. It turned out that Sandy had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and had opted for hospice.  So why didn’t anyone – including and especially Sandy – let me know this?  There was silence on the other end of the phone as my cousin pondered this genuinely baffling (to him) question. He just thought someone else would tell me, he maintained.  It never occurred to him that he might be that person.
When my uncle (their father) was alive, he acted as organizer and communicator for all family get-togethers.  But since his death 18 years ago, the cousins have all gone incommunicado – even with each other.  They don’t answer email. Or texts. Or cell phones. Or land lines.  Or even snail mail. Unless it suits them.
When I invited them all to Rory’s wedding I sent each of them a personal “save the date” card seven months in advance, followed by another every month thereafter then an invitation.  A week before the wedding, the bride called me and said she hadn’t heard from any of them.  Hunting them down, I got the same response from all four: When is that wedding again?
My own kids have many happy memories of these cousins when they visited us over the years (again, organized by my uncle) and always want me to invite them for Thanksgiving.  We’ve had some really fun Thanksgivings with them. 
More often than not, they just never respond to the invitation. Radio silence. Should you be so lucky as to reach them, you’ll get the genuinely puzzled reply, “Did you need an answer?”  As fond as I think they are of me, they regard people who require RSVPs for major holidays or weddings to be a little too tightly wound. 
Actually, inviting them doesn’t really matter one way or another. If they want to come, they’ll call me the night before and say they’d love to come for Thanksgiving, if it’s not too late.  One year they accepted but didn’t show up.  (“Too tired.”)
There is definitely a part of me that has vowed to tell them if they call me the night before Thanksgiving that it is, alas, too late.  I’m not running around borrowing chairs from neighbors and upping food orders on such short notice.  But that would only make me the villain of the piece.  “The cousins want to come for Thanksgiving and you told them no?”  Lots of grumpy faces.  “But we hardly ever see them!”  They’re really fun people. I get it. 
These cousins, and a few other relatives, have had me pondering the whole concept of “family is everything.”  I’d definitely apply that to my sons, their wives, and the grandchildren. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
But how much more slack should you cut family than other folks?  If these people weren’t relatives, I’d never put up with this crap.  But should I, even if they are?  Nobody is THAT much fun.
So, do you just have to accept family members for the thoughtless idiots that they are? I’m fairly clear that these folks aren’t going to change.  The cousins are in their late 50s and early 60’s at this point. 
Four months ago, one of the cousins called me at 4 p.m. telling me he was in town for a one-day meeting (which he’d known about for weeks) and wanted to come for dinner that night, or take us out. It was the first time we’d heard from him, never mind seen him, in eight years. (They all live in California.)
“Sure,” I said, “come on over.” Once here, he apologized for the abysmal communication over the years. He promised it would be better in the future.  Just not his strong suit, he said.
We had a lovely evening but haven’t heard from him since, even a thank you for dinner.
Sadly, I never got to talk to or go visit my cousin Sandy before she died.  Alas, I’m not noticing much difference in communication.


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