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My brother Hart's funeral - Mo's Journal
October 26th, 2006
03:03 pm

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My brother Hart's funeral
My brother Hart died a few days ago. We don't know exactly when, or even what happened. He lived alone and apparently died in his sleep. He had been unwell much of his life, having had a brain injury at age eight with significant sequelae, but no one thought his life was threatened by his health issues. It seems he truly did just go to sleep and not wake up, and I'm thankful he had an easy death. I hope, for my own peace of mind, that I'll soon hear the results of his autopsy.

I'm one of six siblings. I'm the second child and the eldest girl (we're boy girl boy girl boy girl). Hart was the next child after me. I had not seen him in a long time.

I was disowned over 30 years ago when I came out at age 19. My parents have been completely intransigent for all that time, insisting that all extended family members shun me as well. Most have complied.

I'm not the only one my parents have banned from contact with them and theirs. Of the six of us "kids" three have no relationship at all with our parents, and our parents have made great efforts to deny our existence. For example, they removed all pictures of me from their house when they cut me off. S., my youngest sister (15 years younger than me) corresponded with me secretly during high school. She's now in the estranged category herself. I feel like we are in two "camps" - the Mom-and-Dad Camp and the Banned Camp. I hate that, but I hated it more when I was in a camp by myself.

It’s a difficult time for everyone in our family, I’m sure. Death is always fraught, and our family situation makes it more so. I'm sure that's true for everyone in the family, but being unwelcome at your own brother's funeral is a particular kind of "fraught", I think. Other complications include not knowing how or even when Hart died, as of yet, and that the funeral occurred on Doran’s 18th birthday and his day of death may have been S’s birthday.

Neither S. nor I had had a real relationship with Hart for most of our adult lives, but we had both heard from him from time to time. For me it has been years; S. had spoken with him quite recently. I think our feelings of loss are very complicated, but we both did feel a strong sadness at the news of Hart's death, complicated by anxiety and confusion about what to do to mark this sad milesone, given the difficult family situation.

S. and I discussed mourning rituals with each other, with our partners, with friends, and with our respective rabbis and decided what we each felt we wanted to/needed to do. For both of us that included going to the funeral, although we did know we were not welcome. I feel strongly that we did not choose to go to make trouble, or to cause anyone discomfort. We chose to go because we needed to be part of this ritual.

I, at the suggestion of my rabbi, called my parents’ rabbi in advance of the funeral and let him know what the family dynamics were like, so that he could respond appropriately. I had a couple of conversations with him and by the second one he had spoken to my mother and my acknowledged siblings (my father’s dementia is quite profound, so he wasn’t really part of the conversations) so we had a better idea of what to expect at the funeral.

S and I had both last seen our parents at our Uncle Ian's funeral. There had been minimal contact then. S. flew into NYC Tuesday morning. I picked her up at the airport and we drove up to Connecticut from there. We returned last night.

It went as well as could be expected, S. and I both agree. Some people were very nice; others were cold but not overtly nasty. My dad was completely out of it. I'm sure he had no idea who we were - he barely knew who he was and also asked who died at one point.

My mother - who is not suffering from dementia - pretended not to know who I am. It was probably a good clue that I said "Hi mom" but she responded with "Who are you?" When I said "Dale" she looked at me blankly and said nothing. So I added "Your daughter." At which point she said, "Oh. I last saw you at Ian's funeral. I guess you've changed in five years." I haven't btw. I’ve lost and gained back some weight since Ian’s funeral and basically look the same I did then. She didn't say anything else to me.

The rabbi at my parents' synagogue was as wonderful as could be. He was very kind and warm to us, and navigated this mine field so well, I thought. The word we got was that he had spoken to our mother and our acknowledged siblings and "read them the riot act" - saying if they wanted to have a Jewish funeral they had to abide by Jewish law and include us. The funeral director, unfortunately, had not gotten the word, and did try a couple of times to get S. and me to leave, but we held fast and told him the rabbi was expecting us.

Later on, S. and I saw the initial paperwork from the funeral home's interview with my mother and acknowledged sibs, and it said "one brother and one sister" but he must have heard something after that because he knew who we were but suggested it would be better if we did not join the family. And then tried to usher us out at a later point so we wouldn’t be part of a ritual called Kriah.

Some of my parents' friends were quite lovely - very warm and kind. It was really weird seeing people I hadn't seen in 30 years - some I recognized, some I didn't. S. recognized more, but it's fewer years for her.

S's friends were just wonderful. D., a childhood friend of hers who lives in the town in which we grew up (and who, ironically, was the conduit through whom I corresponded with S. when she was in high school and surreptitiously contacting me) put us up overnight and was very hospitable (and came and got us when we were stranded due to car trouble, too). S’s oldest friend, M., took a day off of work and drove quite a distance to come (and got enlisted as a pall bearer - I think they hadn't thought this one through). He and his mother took us out to lunch afterwards and were just totally wonderful through the whole thing.

My ex was also very kind about the whole thing. She gave me no trouble about taking the kids Tuesday night, offered for me to take the car (it was our car jointly; she basically has kept it but we never worked out a division of property so we both just call it “the car”), and then left a very sweet note in it along with water and food for the journey.

The car broke down and we ended up stuck in Connecticut waiting for it to get fixed so I missed Zara's circus and Doran's birthday dinner. I've never missed a performance of Zara's before. I had been kind of reconciled to the necessity but then when the funeral was at 9:30 am I thought maybe I didn't have to miss it, so I was disappointed. Plus the repairs cost me $860 which is a whole hell of a lot more than renting a car would have cost. We got back at 11:00 or so last night. I did see Doran and Kendra, who stayed at my place last night, and I gave Doran his presents. We were all dragging this morning.

I am soooooo glad S. came. It would have been a million times harder without her. And - aside from all the emotional difficulty and complications of the event - it was just pure bliss to have hours (between the drives and the auto repair place) to just hang out and talk to my sister, with no kids or partners or other distractions. I don't know when we last did that. I love the family time we have together (like when we saw them in Winnipeg over the summer) but one-on-one is special and in pretty short supply.

Okay, we got a little punchy on the way home and came up with this:

Dysfunctional Family Funeral Mastercard Commercial

Long distance phone calls to your parents' rabbi who doesn't know you
exist: $5.85
Airplane ticket from Minneapolis: $734.60
New black Shoes: $35
Car repairs after it broke down at the funeral: $860
Your mother pretending she doesn't know who you are: Priceless


I'm using my Pleasant View icon. Pleasant View Cottage at Winnipeg Beach was my grandparents' beach house and it's a place that all six Rosenberg kids have had happy times at. I said to S. that it seems so strange to think there aren't six of us anymore, that I feel like I won't know how to answer the next time someone asks me how many brothers and sisters I have. She said, "I've never known how to answer that question my whole life." She was a small child when I disappeared, and doesn't really remember the time before. Her answer made me so sad for her, and indeed for all of us.

For those who have read my fiction, this might give a little insight into how and why family estrangement is a theme that I explore. FWIW, here is my stance: I am subject to family estrangement but I don't participate in it. I don't in any way condone or contribute to cutting people out of their family's lives. Anyone who wants contact with me is always welcome to have it, even if they have not spoken to me for years, even if they have tried to get others to deny my existence, even if I know it's likely that they'll be friendly today and go back to pretending I don't exist tomorrow (this is the pattern with some of the siblings).

I invited my parents to my kids' bnai mitzvah as well as all my siblings, even those who pretend they don't know I exist. I do this not in any hope that they will change their minds, but because I want to set an example for my children that this is just something We Do Not Do. Banning relatives is a practice I abhor, and it is one that stops with me.

Current Mood: sadsad

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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:05 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the hugs, and for reading.
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From:libgirl
Date:October 26th, 2006 07:57 pm (UTC)
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My parents have always been loving and supportive and there has never been any question of not acknowledging family, even though more than one of my cousins has done things that mean they'll be in prison for life.

However, I do know what family estrangement is. My grandmother's youngest sister is four years younger than my mother. For a time when my Mom was young (she too is one of six) her Grandmother, Hazel, and her Aunt, Bonnie both lived with the eight of them. Hazel always favored Bonnie and she grew up very spoiled. Bonnie chafed at the idea that her sister was her primary care-giver and would try to get around the house rules. This degenerated until Hazel took Bonnie and cut off all ties to my grandmother and her children. I am the oldest grandchild and I remember my mother going to Hazel's house to introduce me to her and Hazel saying that I was no relation of hers. That was the only time in my life that I met my great grandmother who only died five years ago. Before she died, she made her peace with my grandfather (she did some extremely unpleasant things when my Grandmother died including missing the funeral so that she could go into my grandfather's house and go through Mamawl's belongings when no one else was there) and she wanted to know her six grand children and twenty great grand children.

To this day, I barely know my Aunt Bonnie and our family is very divided.

Dividing families doesn't just affect the primary players...it's got a pervasive trickle-down effect that continues for generations.

I'm sorry that this is something that you have experienced and had to go through. I am glad that you're so willing to forgive and move on. I wouldn't be surprised if you hear from nieces and nephews who don't know or care why the restrictions are in place.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I know how much more difficult this sort of family situation makes the loss of a loved one.

Jess
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
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Dividing families doesn't just affect the primary players...it's got a pervasive trickle-down effect that continues for generations.

Yes, that's my greatest fear. My sibs and I have 8 children among us. Four of us are parents - Hart and one other sister were not. Of the four of us with kids, 3 are banned. Our kids all know their cousins, but my other brother's kids have been raised to think they had none on his father's side. I wrote and suggested recently (maybe about a year and a half ago) that my brother and sister-in-law let their kids know their cousins, but they rebuffed that. I sent them a picture of all the cousins at Winnipeg Beach (from the family reunion - I guess the Outcast Family Reunion - this past summer) just a couple of months ago. They didn't write back.
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From:artaxastra
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry this is so incredibly difficult. Banning relatives is just wrong. And it happens way too much.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
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It does happen a lot, I find. More than you'd know since most of us find it uncomfortable to discuss.
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From:sabra_n
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
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I'm so, so sorry. For everything.

-blue
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:chimosa
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
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Hey you- I've been wondering what you've been up to lately as I haven't seen you post much. I'm so sorry for your loss and that you had to go through all this, the whole estrangement thing is so bizarre, I can't believe you've had to go through with all this and for so long! I've admired you a lot for many many different reasons, but my respect for you has grown even more, and I didn't think that was possible.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)
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You're sweet. I know I kind of dropped off the face of the online world, which was mostly due to busy-ness. I had planned on getting back into reading and writing fanfic - in fact I'd blocked out some time last weekend for just that - and then this all happened. But I definitely do want to get back to it.
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From:opera142
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry for your lost, and I'm sorry the situation was muddled further by old issues.

My apologies for the lack of a somber icon.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. And your icon always makes me smile.
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From:skyline3way
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC)
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Oh Dale, I know we've only met the one time in NY, but I must tell you, I feel such pity for your parents. They have missed a wonderful daughter, bright, happy grandchildren, and a cohesive family unit. It's so rare in today's culture and they threw it away.

My sympathies to you on the loss of your brother.

Faye
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From:talktooloose
Date:October 27th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
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Wow, yes. Well said. It has been your parents' profound loss, Dale.
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From:executrix
Date:October 26th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
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I'm so sorry not only for your loss but for your family's ability to add bitterness to the sorrow. At least you've learned from it and are making things better going forward.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, Dana.
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:October 26th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
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Dale, I just wanted to wrap you with love and care right now. I can only imagine how difficult this was, and I am sorry for all of your losses. However, I am also very glad you got to spend such precious time with your sister. You have a great, forgiving heart and you set such a wonderful example for your children. It's your family's loss if they can't see how special a soul you are. Peace, love and huggs to you, sweetie. Please take care of you.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the kind words and the beautiful picture. Where is it?
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From:marag
Date:October 26th, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC)
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Oh dear, I'm so sorry your family had to make such a hard time even harder. ::hugs:: Good on you for trying to be the adult in the situation.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, Mara. I do occasionally get tired of being an adult, but it seems better than the alternative.
From:violetglaze
Date:October 26th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
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I'm so sorry to hear that. This is so sad on so many levels. I'm tremendously sorry, and extend all the best to you and your family, estranged or not.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!
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From:thefourthvine
Date:October 26th, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry, both for your brother's death and for your family's - I don't know, is it okay to call it weirdness? I honestly don't know what else to call it. Insanity, even, might be closer to the mark. Losing a family member is so hard and horrible that I cannot imagine anyone doing it by choice, but that's pretty much what your parents did.

So. I'm glad you went to the funeral and sorry there was a need for one in the first place. I'm glad you faced your family in such a gracious and mindful way and sorry that there was a need to do that. My condolences.

*hugs*
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Weirdness is fine. Insanity works, too. And I thank you for the condolences.
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From:hominysnark
Date:October 26th, 2006 10:43 pm (UTC)
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I'm so sorry for your loss--all your losses.

*hugs*
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. All the kind words and hugs help a lot.
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From:talktooloose
Date:October 27th, 2006 12:48 am (UTC)
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May you find comfort in all those who love you and who are loyal to you.

May your estranged family someday find some measure of healing, for they have wounded themselves by doing the terrible thing they have done to you and S.

My deepest condolensces on the death of your brother.

Also, send my birthday wishes to Doran. May the love that you have for your children ever sustain them in times of pain and trouble.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
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Lovely words, Jonathan. Thanks so much.
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From:roxymissrose
Date:October 27th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC)
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I'm sorry for *all* your losses. You are doing the right thing in not showing bitterness and in showing your kids your willingness to have a relationship with your relatives. You're very smart, and very brave.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I do feel parenthood can have a kind of enobling quality to it, yk? You want to do what you feel is right to be a good example for your children. It doesn't work for everyone or all the time for anyone, but I think it can be a good motivation.
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From:ringthebells
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
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I'm so sorry. *hug*
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. Hugs are definitely a help.
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From:melty_girl
Date:October 27th, 2006 06:44 am (UTC)
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I'm so sorry about your brother. And your family.

I'm going through some family strangeness and estrangement right now and am baffled at why people persist in compounding loss on top of loss. There's just no sense to it. I don't understand how any mother could behave like yours, yet I know that she is not the only one. I wish you didn't have to experience that...
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. I hope your family situation resolves itself well and soon. I totally agree with you that it is compounding loss upon loss. That's a painfully accurate way to describe family estrangement.
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From:momma_geek
Date:October 27th, 2006 12:53 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for sharing all this, Dale. I applaud your stand on not banning relatives. We have a big family split in our family right now and it's causing pain on both sides. Life's just too short.
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From:mofic
Date:October 27th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
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I remembered you were dealing with a family split. I hope it works out, and soon.
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From:mofic
Date:October 29th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
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It's definitely the right thing to say, and yes there are multiple layers of loss.

In a very New York moment yesterday some one on the subway noticed my torn black ribbon (Jewish mourning custom) and said to me, "I'm sorry for your troubles" (Irish mourning phrase). I've always loved that expression - it seems so perfect.
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From:faramir_boromir
Date:October 27th, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad you set the positive example for your kids, so that you can break the cycle with their generation. That is the best that can be said, in light of such sad news. I grieve with you.
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From:mofic
Date:October 29th, 2006 02:00 am (UTC)
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I hope the next generation will break the cycle. It felt so strange to see my brother's kids at the funeral - a nephew and niece I'd never seen, who have never met their cousins on their father's side, who don't even know they have any, presumably.
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From:hitchhiker
Date:October 27th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry for your loss, and for all you had to put up with at your family's hands :(
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From:mofic
Date:October 29th, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)
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Thanks, Martin. It's sad for us all.
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From:musamea
Date:October 27th, 2006 05:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm so sorry to hear about your losses. I know a little bit about how it feels to have estranged family (My dad's mother was awful to him and my mom when they got married. Things are somewhat better now that it's become obvious that my brother is going to be their only male grandchild, but I can still remember really tense times with that side of our family), and it really sucks. You're amazing for how strong you've been, and I'm so glad your kids have a mother like you. *hugs*
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From:mofic
Date:October 29th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
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Thanks very much for the kind words.
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From:uraniachang
Date:October 28th, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
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I'm sorry about your brother, even though you weren't very close but flesh-and-blood isn't something one can simply deny by distance.
As for your family, I have no idea why they banned you at the first place, but "banned" is a really harsh way to treat a family member, I only hear it happen when one commits cold-blooded murder, sexual attack or once, one pair of parents throw their son out coz of his sexuality in my country. I can understand the first two cases but I always disagree with the third one. Though family is one of the strongest power in world, it's also one of the most complicated matter, I truly hope that you can resolve your family issue some day and have one happy family reunion you so deserve, but if it doesn't work, just remember there are still people caring for you even when some of your family are too blind to do so.
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From:mofic
Date:October 29th, 2006 02:04 am (UTC)
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Thanks for your kind words. I was disowned because I came out as a lesbian. Sorry that wasn't clear.
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From:eveningblue
Date:October 29th, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC)
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Dale, this is so very sad. I'm sorry about Hart, but I'm glad you've found an ally in S. You are such an upbeat person; it's amazing to me that you've not only survived but also thrived, despite your family's treatment of you.

Take care of yourself.
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From:mofic
Date:October 30th, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)
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Thanks. It's been a hard week, but it's also been one where I've felt a lot of love and caring.
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