Family: Love them or hate them?

How many of you have ever received a Christmas card, a pre-printed one where you only have to add your name. How many of you have received one with nothing but a lonely little name under the printed message, and have felt: “why did they bother?”. I love receiving Christmas cards. It makes me wonder why the person chose that particular card for me. If they did what I do, pick one that I find beautiful or very Swedish, or one that is a symbol of old-fashioned values, of comfort, of warmth. And did they choose the stamp on the envelope with the same thoughts?

For years, I have received these ghastly Christmas cards from my dad’s sister. Ghastly because noone in their right mind can find them pretty! You buy them at the supermarket. 10 in a package. They are white single cards with a tiny picture of something like an elf in one corner and then the text printed in red. You send them out of duty, nothing else. For years, I have received Christmas cards with brag-newsletters from people, describing their perfect families, and have felt really ashamed because there must be something wrong with me, not having anything of the sort to say about my own family! But those newsletters do one thing. They do tell a story. A rosy one, but all the same. My aunt’s Christmas cards say nothing apart from that she is alive. And for two years, there was no card at all. Was she dead? I did not receive the ones I sent, back, so she must be alive or? Christmas 2012, I decided to write a little letter in the card, to fill out all the space. And in January 2013 I received an answer from my aunt in the form of a little letter where she told me that she is feeling poorly, that she doesn’t trust the post anymore so she doesn’t send any cards out for Christmas… Finally a life sign!  All year I felt great concern for her but know that she does not want any visits, since visitors bring germs and she so easily catch things. We always have some virus going so, safest to not go visit her in order not to kill her.

In December 2013, I once again did the same thing. I wrote an update on our family. Tried to keep it positive but had to be honest in my view. I wanted to explain why she doesn’t hear from my mum anymore. I wanted her to know that we care about her. I wanted her to not feel lonely but thought of. Never did I expect that she finds my communications tiresome and vexing! What she really said in the letter I received from her yesterday, is “leave me alone!”. For some reason she sees everyone as a villain. Out to get something from her. I do admit that her sister has abused her through the years since her younger sister has always been somewhat of an air-brain. Not being able to look after herself very well. But it really hurts my feelings that a relative, the only connection I have left of my father’s, sees me as someone fishing for something. I feel that this letter needs to be saved for posterity so in translation it says this:

5/2-2014

Hello,

Thank you for the Christmas card. I have been able to follow your family now for many years, seeing how the children grow. I never wanted any children myself. From the time I was six and a half and forward, I had to take care of AnnMari. That was enough for me. Father was called up, mum had to support us and my siblings were in school or elsewhere. There were no child allowances then.

To be sure, a trustee is only appointed because of a person’s own behaviour. (talking about my mum) As a relative, you must have been asked to approve. But it is just a formality thing. The decision has already been made at that stage. Marianne’s behaviour in different situations like  in the senior citizen association and the housing association must be on record. She has herself spoken a lot about her angry counterattacks when they have made demands. She has time after time demanded that the neighbours watch her house for months, without reimbursement, which must have created hostile feelings. (referring to my mum’s 3 month trips to Australia) In return, she brought in post and mowed the lawn a couple of times for them.

At first, Marianne and Alfons stayed with Erika till she tired of them. Then they drove down to AnnMari and Nisse every summer and stayed in Sandskogen. When they in return wanted to visit you in Trollhättan, one day, Alfons and Marianne took off. “We only had enough sandwich spread for ourselves”.

Kurt and I have always received a lot of guests (she’s been divorced all MY life), but as the years have gone by, we have discovered that we never receive what we ourselves have given. The older that I’ve become, the more troublesome its been to carry home food bags, so when I turned 75 (five years ago) I said enough is enough. Since Alfons died, Marianne has been my guest 50-60 times and always for dinner. To Tomelilla she brought two breakfast rolls and to Höör, two of them. To this place she has delivered one broken pair of blinds.

She has always needed advice and help. The second time I went to hers, I was treated to the same menu as the first time, macaroni and sausage, which totally lack nutrition value. Flying Jacob dish was heated up three times in a row. The last time, it had an inedible skin. In order to help her, I had to drive my cat from Tomelilla to a cat pension in Vellinge, 2001 or 2002, and had to stay with her for a while. She could have taken care of the water damage to the roof and climbing on to the roof, herself. But she had not gone up there since she had fallen down from the roof.

She has been making her own wine in the past, but when I was there, she had 3 liters of wine in the fridge and she confessed that she buys it now and then. That is how you develop alcoholism. What have not the police heard and seen? She has a driver’s license doesn’t she? The combination of bad fast food and wine has made me suspect this for a long time.  So it must be she who phones one signal and then hangs up. This has happened for ten years but has now ceased. I have during the years handled many investigation cases, so nothing surprises me anymore. -Erika died in February 2010. Marianne did not even send a flower to her grave, but she happily received gifts throughout the years.

Because of my polio injuries to my legs, elbows and other injuries that have happened through the years, I had to retire early. A bad back and asthma are other problems. I fell on the kitchen floor the first day that we had snow. First I thought I had just scratched my cheek but then I noticed that blood had come out of my eye, that the wrist was swollen but my knee is the worse thing. I have always fallen a lot so one can’t count the scaring on my wrists anymore. I think it is difficult for you to understand but I have enough of my own problems which on top of everything cost a lot. You have only ever seen me for short moments. More people than Marianne have had to realise that the free restaurant, the cheap counsel- and help service has ceased. People have really shown what they are made of.

Hope that all of you are healthy, that is the best. There are always problems.

Greetings Alva

PS. Fun to hear that … has inherited her singing voice. I performed a lot as a child. The Teddy Concerts would be too much for me. I have a difficult time writing. DS.

My mum has always accused Alva of being weird. She has had her odd ways, I must admit. But this letter is more than that! Maybe her memory is going? Her father was not called up! He abandoned grandmother when she was pregnant with AnnMari since he had made another woman pregnant. They gave birth the same year. He had failed to tell that woman that he was married though. It took something like six years, before he did so. And how could Alva look after the baby when she was bedridden with polio and the aftermath, for years. She was never able to go to school but had to do all her schooling via correspondence!

What she said about my mum, her leaving her house for months for neighbours to look after, and getting angry in the associations etc. That is all correct. Those neighbours no longer live on the street, but who knows what they thought. I can only say, that I thought her irresponsible, that one can’t ask that of one’s neighbours year after year. Even if one really wants to go see one’s daughter! But what I said have never mattered to my mum.

No, the worse part of the letter was really the fact that this woman keeps a tab on how much she gives and what she receives in return. She holds grudges 60 years after the fact. No wonder my dad did not want to have anything to do with his sisters. I grew up not knowing two of my aunts at all. Erika and Alva stayed out of our lives for at least the first 12 years of my life. Only after my dad’s accident did they all forgive and forget. Or so I thought. I guess the forgiving was not for real. But to sit and count out how many times someone has visited one and if they brought something to eat with them. That is, I don’t know what to call it. But I always did warn mum. That Alva did not like surprise visits. That one can’t force oneself on to people, the way my mum did, the last 20 years that we have lived here. One really should wait for an invitation and not outstay one’s welcome. But my mum never respected that.

When I grew up, my parents always complained about our relatives never coming up to us, visiting us. All my school friends thought we had no relatives, since they never showed their faces. We always had to drive down to southern Sweden, where we now live, to visit them. We stayed with my mum’s parents in their house, for the most part. We would just go for day visits to my dad’s mother. And we would stay in a tent, at the council camping park, close to where AnnMari lived, when we visited them, in summer. All other times, it was just day visits.

When it came to Erika’s death and flowers being sent. How was anyone of us supposed to know that she was dead? I would have liked to have sent her a flower, even though I only met her two or three times between the age of 12, after my parents had finally married, and the age of 14, when my dad died. She behaved so poorly in conjunction with his death that I had no further wish of ever meeting her again. At the same time, she was after all his half-sister. As far as my mum and flowers go, she had by that time stopped sending Birthday wishes for us in the way of cards, money for gifts and Christmas cards. It seems that it was around then, when she suddenly forgot all her manners and what is expected of you as a family member.

The question is, do I write her an apologise for having sent her a letter that she felt obliged to answer? Do I write a letter and explain one or two things? Do I take her letter as just ramblings from a bitter old woman who is loosing it? Or what do I do? Ignore it and pretend I never received it? One thing is for certain that IF I do send her a Christmas card this year, I will just sign our names to it and that will be it. It seems to be the way that she prefers things. And from what she said at the start of the letter, she has never liked children so maybe I should just not bother her anymore at all? Just let her sit in her small flat and wait for death? It seem that she is content with that and feeling sorry for herself, counting up all the injustices that people have done to her. She is a weird one, no doubt about it and that is why my dad avoided her for all those years. Erika, was another story. He broke with her, after she pointed out that he was a disgrace, having fathered a bastard (me), forgetting that she herself was one as well. He did not want to marry my mother and noone was going to tell him to do so! I have no idea who said sorry after the accident, but I suspect that my parents marriage was the final apology Erika was waiting for. And my father wasn’t even a shadow of himself anymore, after the accident. He just wanted to be with his family, I think, before he died. He no longer had the energy or the language to argue. Maybe he finally realised that all we’ve got that is worth having, is after all family. That life is too short to hold grudges.

All these years I have worried about Alva. Her poor health. Her weird ways alienating people. And no children to check up on her. No husband. But I guess I must just leave her to live her life the way she wants to. She can talk to her ghosts. She has no need for us. Then she would have sought us out. Time for me to finally accept that our family is really, really weird!

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2 responses to “Family: Love them or hate them?

  1. I agree with Lucy Maud Montgomery! At least when some relatives are concerned. It is so strange really, how we all start out with the same background, of sorts, and then get shaped by circumstances. (Just read about “Isabel’s” and “Jamie’s” discussion over Mozart and his sister being so different from each other even though they were brought up the same way:”The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds”.)But we do choose who we want to become or how to handle those circumstances. And I must say that my relatives have really chosen not to become agreable people. All the years that we DID socialize, it was from duty, not from love. I don’t think anyone thought about it in that manner but when one looks at it in retrospect, one knows! As you say, when money and inheritance get in to the picture, people really show what they are made of. You really see who is naughty and nice. (Sorry, “Gubby” is watching “Polar Express” in the background. We forgot to watch it during Christmas so we are doing Christmas in February instead.) Maybe I will dedicate a blog post to the topic? Doubt I will ever write my life story, so at least it would be on my blog?
    It seems like some relatives are key persons or the glue that makes it all stick together. Once they are gone or are too sick to be the driving force behind things, then it all cracks up. Not just when it comes to families but you see it in all sorts of other organizations as well. I just read about William Guarnere, Easy Company, 101st Airborne, no longer healthy enough to do reunions, answering mail and so forth. This man made his company a real band of brothers after the war, because he organized everything so that they would keep in touch. All WWII companies, that never saw each other again after the war, can only blame it on lack of enthusiasm, lack of feelings for their fellow human beings, lack of a “glue person”. It is sad that there are so few of these sort of persons around.
    I am so sorry to hear that your brother finally has passed away. I know that feelings between you were not of the happiest kind, but a brother after all is a brother. One has grown up together. One has laughed together, cried together, done family things together. A sibling is after all, a big long chapter of one’s life, some 18 years of it. Whatever happens after that, can alienate one from one another, but one can never wipe those early years out of one’s memory. Those years do mean something, even if other things become more important, later on. But when one was there, they were the most important thing. I guess you never were able to kiss and make up properly or perhaps not even say a proper goodbye, but I am glad to hear that you at least got to get closure and send him off via a memorial service. Strange that his wife did not want something, anything done in his memory but she does sound like a very self-absorbed person! When my mum’s mother died, the priest said something that really shook me around:”I know you are sad and don’t want to think about things like psalms, ceremonies etc. But a funeral is a way to show the person how much we loved her. We sing for her. We do the things for her. But it is also for the family and friends. To get closure.” When Katherine chose not to have a funeral, she wasn’t showing love for your brother and how about her own closure? For some people it is a show for the peanut gallery. Like when my aunt Erika was angry with me for not crying ENOUGH at my dad’s funeral. Or my aunt Daicy thinking it a scandal that T., Johannes and Daniel were not wearing white ties to my grandmother’s funeral, which is expected of the closest relatives in a family. My dad knew exactly how sad I was over his death. And my grandmother knew that we did not know about the white tie tradition nor did we know where one can buy such a thing. Grieving is not in the clothes or a competition in who can produce most tears. My heart is with you and I am glad that so many friends came to your brother’s memorial service, organized by you and not the person one would have expected to organize it!

  2. Christine Stezik

    The saying that , “you can’t choose family, only your friends” really makes a lot of sense. Thank goodness for friends because sometimes they are the family you wished you had. In one of her her books L.M. Montgomery made a comment about the saying “blood is thicker than water” (referring to family) and said something like” who wants blood when you can have clean fresh, cool water?”. You are a caring person Camilla. Not everyone is. Your aunt has been shaped by her own experiences and chooses to be who she is. It’s not easy to understand why people choose the paths they do. I send a few cards to older relatives and now rarely get one back. That’s fine. I hope their day is brightened by getting something in the mail that is personal and perhaps brightens their day because they have been thought of. I send with good intentions. They decide how they wish to respond. With my brother’s passing I often feel that I have very few relatives left. For some reason, probably due to Katherine’s influence, my cousins couldn’t even respond with wishes of sympathy. My sister and I feel removed from my mother’s side of the family. Katherine did not hesitate to tell everyone what nasty sisters we were which of course isn’t true. When money and inheritance is part of the picture, the worst is brought out of people. So people will choose what they want to believe. Last week I organized a memorial service for my brother at the church and my sister informed her. Considering she would not hold a funeral for him it was a relief to bring closure to us all. She did not respond or come. But my old high school friends did.