From the beginning, being that it is such a large family I happily assumed my role as "observer".
For years I observed, remaining quiet and reserved at family gatherings. To be honest, the first few years were spent trying like hell to remember who everyone was. This family at first glance is just simply overwhelming. To this very day I still have a moment of relapse as my brain stutters around the names as I try to match it with the face upon first walking into a room where everyone is gathered.
Danny was the first to make me feel comfortable. His awkwardness, his honesty and his "air-headed" appeal had me at hello. Brennan made me feel reluctant to open up because he was so close to Darren I felt a sense of "level of approval" that I needed to achieve before he would accept me but he soon did. Uncle Brian in all his "bigness" made me nervous only because he was louder then them all. After careful observation I realized he was just a "gentle" giant and I soon found myself looking forward to his next big all encompassing bear hug.
Those 3 men were my first real connections to this family and every one of them is gone. Those 3 faces that I would immediately search for in a crowded room of polish in laws, no longer are there to meet my gaze to set me at ease.
Since their deaths the entire dynamic in this family has obviously shifted. The roles that those 3 men played in keeping the family together and connected lay discarded and empty.
Last night my careful disciplined role of observer became that of an active participant.
In a room with my arms around a grieving mother filled with anger and sadness, with alcohol raging through her veins, wiping tears from my own face and holding my heavy heart as well as hers I felt those 3 men.
I felt Uncle Brian's presence filling the space around us. I felt Brennan's frustration and anger because he would have hated, HATED, the turn of events and somewhere in the chaos and the bitterness and the ill chosen words I could hear Danny's laugh, Brennan joining in, followed by Uncle Brian's bellow. The three of them in a chorus of laughter, laughing at us?, with us?, at the irony of this life?, at the familiarity of sameness?, at our stubbornness to change in the wake of tragedy? Did I hear them call us "POLAKS"?
The core of this family continues to disinegrate and we all fight to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Some of us are in the middle of it all too engrossed in our grief to steal a peak at the sun and to realize we're doing EXACTLY the OPPOSITE of what our lost loved ones would want us to do. Some of us watch from the sidelines praying, cheering and optimistic, and others, like myself, watch with an entirely different view all together.
Last night I received hugs that my friend Candace calls "real hugs". I received real hugs from this family, from MY family, to show support, to convey love and to speak words that sometimes are better not spoken. I felt a part of the family, almost an integral part and I felt my role of observer slowly disappearing into the shadows.
I love this family that I laid stake to on March 8, 2003. I love this family that is dysfunctional in every sense of the word. I love this family because it's either you do or you don't.
Families have roles. We aren't always happy with the roles that we get chosen for are we? No, we aren't but YOU. DEAL. WITH. IT. We don't get to pick the ones that stay or the ones that get taken from us. We play with the cards that are dealt to us, with the hand we are given, with the cards that are discarded into the pile...we play.
And if someone should come along and play 52 card pick up we simply ask for all the cards to be picked up at the end of the game, stacked together, placed in the box as a tight deck, and the flap tucked in tightly.
Because you know you can't play a card game with a short deck. You just can't. Even the cards in the discard pile, the ones we didn't get to play with very long, remain a part of the deck. As long as they all get put back in the same box....
with the flap
playing remains a possibility.
You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.
~ Jan Glidewell