Like so many young people, I couldn't wait to graduate from high school so that I could start my life and do anything I wanted. My family life wasn't the best and I told myself that getting away from it all and starting my life somewhere else was the best option for me. For about 15 years I lived in different states around the country not having much contact with anyone other than my parents and brother. I had begun a life of self discovery.....trying to figure out what was important to me, who was important to me, and who I really was as a person. That sounds like a good thing to do for some people, doesn't it? Well, it can be a good thing, but in my case I had never learned the tools that are needed to figure these things out.
As time went on I became further removed from the family I had grown up with, and extended family that lived far away, and I told myself that I was better off this way. The real issue was that I was running away from everyone because I didn't feel like I deserved to be loved by any of them. My perception of myself was that I was unworthy and a failure because of the mistakes I had made over the years. The truth is that I had felt that way through my whole teenage years so by the time I graduated from high school I felt like I didn't have any option but to start new somewhere else. It really was a lonely feeling that kept increasing over time. No matter where I went or how much time went by, I couldn't shake the lonely feeling of the giant hole that I had created in my life.
It wasn't until my marriage fell apart and I decided to move closer to family that I started to get a sense of what I was missing in my life. I started spending more time with my grandparents and my mom's side of the family, and my children had finally gotten a chance to see what it's like to have extended family around in their lives. I started to heal old wounds that kept dictating my life so that I could learn to love myself enough to feel worthy of the good things that were coming into my life now that I had the tools necessary to create a good life for me and my children.
It wasn't until my husband Don and I had been married for a little while and I was being accepted as part of the family, did I really start to feel the hole in my life close up a bit. Each visit with them, phone calls, text messages, Mother's Day cards, family reunions, etc.....was another piece added to close up that hole that I had felt in my life for so long. Then, a couple of years ago, my long lost step-sister contacted me through Facebook. At first I was afraid, not of her, but of the emotions I was feeling after so many years but when I answered her message I felt a flood of relief and happiness of a connection that had been lost and then found again. Since then we have had many visits to join our families together, and I've been able to reunite with my other step-sister and my step-brother. Again, more pieces closing up that hole in my life so that it keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Even though that giant hole in my life had become much smaller, it still wasn't gone and I knew why. It really wasn't ever going to go away completely as long as my extended family up north wasn't a part of my life. So much has happened, and so many years had passed, that I had no clue how to bridge that gap. Then a few days ago, the opportunity fell in my lap and I fought my fear of rejection and decided to search for them through Facebook to close that hole up for good. What happened next was something I never guessed would happen, but I was blessed beyond words. Once I found everyone and started sending out "friend requests" it only took a short time for me to start getting messages back accepting my requests. From that point on I've been able to chat with several of my cousins and two of my aunts and that giant hole in my life suddenly became much smaller.
"Family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten" David Ogden Stiers
I wish I had seen this quote and been able to apply it to my own life years ago, but sometimes we need to get lost for a while to be able to find ourselves and our place in the world. For me, my place is with family and I know that now. Don't ever talk yourself down so much that you pull away from everyone that loves you, but if you find yourself in a place where you've created a giant hole in your life.....maybe, just maybe, reaching out to your family will give you the tools to plug up that hole for good. Don't let time, doubt, or fear keep you from surrounding yourself from your loved ones. I know that sometimes it's not an option to surround yourself with the family you were born into, but that just means you get to pick the family you surround yourself with. Just maybe you'll be rewarded with a fuller life than you had ever imagined!
When I was born, I was the first grandchild on either side of my family. My brother was born a couple of years later, but there was a pretty large gap between us and all of our cousins. Then when I was 5 we moved far enough away that we were only able to spend summers with family up north. I was 12 the last summer I spent there, and most of my cousins were still pretty young or not even born yet.
When you're 12 you usually don't take it upon yourself to keep in contact with family, so after my last summer up north I didn't see or talk to most of my aunts, uncles, or cousins for years. When I got older and started my own life and family, as long as I had my immediate family to keep in contact with I was satisfied. Or so I thought.
You see, it was during those years when I was younger that my sense of family developed and when I was surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins during the summer I was happy and content, but when I got back home to my regular life the norm was for us to spend alot of time alone or with one of my parents. It was easy to forget what being surrounded by family that loves you feels like.
Over the years I have thought about my family up north and wondered what they were doing, feeling sad that I wasn't able to grow up being surrounded by all of my extended family that I loved so much. It was easy to tell myself that since I've been gone so long nobody remembers me and it doesn't matter that I'm not there or haven't seen them. I figured they had all moved on without me and even thought that maybe they were better without me in their lives. Then my grandmother died.
Thankfully, I had remained in touch with my grandmother and when I moved closer to her I got to spend alot of good quality time with her. As she developed Alzheimers, she eventually had to move back north to be closer to family to help her. Every day I thought about her and my family that was with her, but when she died last winter, 10 years after becoming sick, I still hadn't had much contact with my family up north. After so long I couldn't figure out a way to get past the awkwardness of having been away from everyone for so long. What do I say? Will they remember me? Or worse, will they have forgotten who I was and I'll have to explain it to them? When you tell yourself for so long that you have been forgotten, you eventually believe it to be absolutely true. So, what changed?
When my grandmother died last winter she was cremated and it was determined that her memorial service and burial would be later in the spring since it was getting to be near the dead of winter up north. My dad and I decided that we would go together, and spend that time with family. Unfortunately, a health emergency prevented us from going, so I was back to square one with my extended family up north. The day of the memorial and burial came and went, and a hole that I've been feeling for so long started really nagging at me. The day after the memorial and burial I decided enough is enough, and I started searching for family members through Facebook. The funny thing was, it really wasn't very hard to track down my extended family because most of them were right there for me to find. I took a deep breath, and started sending "friend requests" to everyone I could find, and even sending messages to some of them explaining who I was since my cousins were so young at the time. Within 15 minutes I started getting "friend request accepted" messages from one after the other of my cousins! I was able to spend the day chatting with several of my cousins and an aunt, and in the afternoon another aunt chimed in. Not only did I have wonderful conversations with them, but I even got to chat with one of my cousins two children.
It turned out that although my cousins were very young, the ones that I have been able to chat with so far all remembered me and had even asked about me throughout the years. My self doubt about everyone moving on without me and forgetting about me was just that, self doubt. What would have been so bad if my cousins didn't remember me? As it turns out, nothing. Yeah, I might have needed to explain to them who I was, but having chatted with a few of them in great detail over the last couple of days.....my guess is they would have accepted me right away. The only person suffering from my self doubt was me.
Living in an age of social media, it has made it that much easier to find lost loved ones. Maybe I wasn't meant to find my family before now, but because of social media being so readily available these days, it was much easier to find them and now I have a way to stay in constant contact with them all. I have to believe that everything happens for a reason so I won't dwell on the years I've missed with them, but will focus on the days, months, and years ahead of us that I have to strengthen my connections with them and make lifelong memories. I can't ask for more than that!
Have you lost contact with family or someone important to you and been able to find them through the social media tools that are available these day? I would love to hear your story!