#8: Family is More than Blood (18:30)

Exploring personal definitions of FAMILY, how they often transcend common bloodlines, and being civil toward those who don’t fit our personal molds.

Thank you for listening in and being a part of my growing “podcast family!”

The podcast was conceived from a desire to find a creative outlet for regaining a little more of my own personal balance through sharing these life stories.  I hope you’ll relate in some way to inspire you to keep a stronghold on your personal balance too!

Before we dive into this week’s episode, I must give a shout out to Dave Jackson of the Podcast Rodeo.   I found one of Dave’s gigs on Fiverr.com to review a podcast and submitted mine for the $5 fee to see what I could do to enhance mine and was very impressed by the depth of his critique. Dave gave me tips on improving my sound quality and the flow of my content as well as some tips for my website. It was above and beyond my expectations! You can listen to his review of my podcast on the Podcast Rodeo show. If you have a podcast or are just interested in podcasts, Dave’s show is very informative and superbly done! I’m learning a lot from him as I delve further into this venture!  You should see a huge difference in the sound quality of this episode! Thanks Dave Jackson for sharing your podcasting expertise with newbies like me!

My youngest son, Jordan, and I moved to Vermont from Kentucky in 2012. Our family had experienced some harsh losses in the previous years and it just didn’t make sense for us to continue living in Kentucky when our entire family was in Vermont.

It’s no secret that I struggle living here. In retrospect, I often wonder if I had known how difficult it would be, would I still have moved here?? I think about my family, and the roots we have here in this area than run generations deep, and I know the answer to that question.  

My FAMILY is my reason for being here. The thought of a traditional family, with a mother, father, children, grandparents, cousins… all the makings of what we’re told a family should be, is not always the case. That definition of family is not so much the norm as it was decades ago. It’s more what we make it to be, whether or not its members are related by blood.

With a staggering amount of marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, it has redefined our definition of family. My own household consists of just me and my son. Of course our dog and cat are part of our family too. I may have raised my son without benefit of a father, the community in which he grew up WAS very much a part of our family. We had no blood connection to these people, yet they were an integral part of his upbringing and I considered them family.  

Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. We humans can be so adaptable to our surroundings and experiences. It is what we make it. My own family is a great example. And it’s the number one reason I am here in Vermont.

My parents divorced when I was young. My dad remarried when I was already an adult. He created a second family with this wonderful woman who is more like a sister to me than a “step-mother.” She’s actually just 10 years older than I am and we each were having babies at about the same timeframe.  My father adopted her daughter from a previous relationship, giving me an instant sister when I was in my twenties. He gave her his last name and she claimed it proudly. Although we did not grow up together as typical sisters would, Shauna IS my sister and my two younger brothers, are my BROTHERS. My family was fortunate enough to merge two families into one as we all gravitated back to the place of my father’s roots. There are six siblings ranging in age from 29 to 56. We do not use terms such as “step,” or “half,” and I only use them here only to illustrate the merging of our family and to set the scene for a story I am about to tell. We do not all share blood. We do not have the same mother or the same biological father. But we ARE family, in every sense of that word.

My father’s wife even included my mother in the planning of his funeral ten years ago. I’d like to think that is a really uncommon scenario. Who is that accepting of their spouse’s ex when they are grieving? Marsha, that’s who. And my mother is as equally accepting.

I often feel guilty for not taking my father’s death as harshly as my sister did. Perhaps it’s because I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that my son had died just months before he did, creating a sort of numbness in my heart.

Marsha refers to the three children from my dad’s first marriage as HER children. My kids are HER grandkids. She introduces me to people as her DAUGHTER. I have two mothers. They are as different as night and day, yet they accept each other and respect each other’s role in our merged family. Including two we lost, there are nine grandchildren ranging in age from three to 28. Part of the decision to move here came about after my youngest brother lost a baby. I knew I had to reconnect to these wonderful people and offer my youngest son the opportunity to form stronger bonds with them.

These people are exactly why we came to Vermont. We get together as often as we can between our hectic schedules to share food, laughter, and play time. Despite how hard it is for me here, these are the times I look forward to and savor.

We support each other through good times and bad, and genuinely love each other. My younger brothers are not my “half brothers.” They are 100% my brothers. My sister is 100% my sister. Our family, with the six siblings, seven surviving grandchildren, and two mothers, is a combination of bloodlines. To us, the only lines that matter are the heart lines, which we have all chosen to intertwine into the most lovely tapestry. Those of us who are married, or otherwise coupled, have significant others that are as much a part of our merged family as we are. Through the years, I have gained two more sisters and two more brothers. We are the Rowell clan. We are family and it is one of the most beautiful and cherished parts of my life.

I have a friend here who calls me her sister even though we are not related. She often joins in our family gatherings and is welcomed in as part of our family group. Her family accepts me the same way. Another friend, who is a work acquaintance, become an instant friend. We are so much on the same wavelength we joke that we’re twin souls. These two women, I very much consider family.

Now, I have to backtrack to tell you one of the profound life lessons for my family that came out of losing my first born son in 2007. I touched upon some of these experiences in Episode #5, The Grief Wave, but have saved this part of the story for this episode.

When we lost Jake at the tender age of 18, my youngest son was almost 11. My boys have different fathers. We never referred to them as anything less than BROTHERS. The term “half” wasn’t used nor was it even considered. My ex-in-laws were not quite as open or accepting as my own family. In fact, I never felt accepted by them, which was a huge part in the undoing of my marriage. These people made sure my family and I felt like unwelcomed intruders when my son passed. It was one of the most aggressive and horrible acts of hatred I have ever experienced from fellow human beings. Making the loss all about them and diminishing the other half of my son’s family made them look more like monsters than humans.

My youngest son, who was trying to come to terms with the fact that his brother had just died, heard a conversation that opened a door that would further bond my own family. One of my former in-laws told someone who was asking about him, that Jordan was just Jake’s HALF brother, as if he were nothing or no one important to Jake. Just his half brother, waving a hand as if dismissing his presence as just a nuisance. Their behavior was bad enough, but to witness this meant I had some major interference to run on behalf of my youngest son’s well being, which was already being shattered.

There may come a day when I get some major backlash for talking about this incident in such a public forum, however; how we chose to handle it and the lesson that came from it is what is important here. And it is too important not to share. It’s about being a decent human being and loving and accepting the people who are in our lives regardless of the path that put them there in the first place.

You see, one of my younger brothers had traveled with my father, who was dying at the time, to support us during this devastating loss. Chris is technically my “half” brother. Of course to me, he is nothing less than my brother, 100%. Just as the relationship was with my two sons. Upon hearing of the insensitive comment made in front of my child, Chris opened a dialogue for which I will be eternally grateful.

We were gathered at my brother Mark’s house, which was our basecamp during this journey and our safe haven. (Mark was featured on Episode #6.) Jordan had never heard the term half-brother and began to question his relationship to Jake. He wanted to know if this meant they were not brothers at all. His Uncle Chris, who was barely ten years his senior, explained to Jordan that he and I were brother and sister but we had different mothers. It did not mean that we were any less important to each other or that we were any less family than had we shared two parents. Our family doesn’t deal in terms of halves or steps. We are simply FAMILY. The fact that we share two different mothers didn’t make Chris any less Jordan’s uncle. Chris took my baby aside for a private conversation and whatever they discussed helped Jordan feel loved and accepted for who he was and reinforced that his relationship to his brother was genuine. My dad also explained to him that he understood how Jordan felt because he had lost his oldest sister when he was a young child.

In the coming days through the journey to saying good-bye to Jacob, my family made a pact that we would stick together and hold each other up in love and light. The inevitable encounters with Jake’s “other” family would be met with solidarity. We would silently honor that these people were also his family, even though they could not see us in the same way. The nasty comments, the attempts to pick fights, the hateful glares, all would be stopped from entering our hearts. It’s as though we encircled ourselves with the strongest, most pure, white light. The light would stop the hatred and turn it 180 degrees back to whom ever was inflicting it but the energy would be on wings of love and acceptance that their behavior was just how they chose to express their grief.  We chose to silently fight hate with love and offer no explanation. Our united family unit would not allow their behavior to affect us or impact our ability to say our good-byes to Jacob. We felt his energy and his love for us no matter what anyone else tried to make of it or to undo or dismiss our relationship to him as invalid. In my own twisted way, I am grateful for that experience because it makes me appreciate the love of my own family that much more.

The strength of my family, their pure and beautiful love, and just the essence of who they are, comes through during the good times and the not so good. I could not be more proud to be a member of this Rowell clan. Just as my father gave my sister his name, I chose to take his name back after my divorce. I am not one for labels but my name is one label I embrace. My family is filled with GOOD, decent people, pure of heart and soul. We were raised well by three parents who didn’t allow their differences impact their collective children. We were raised to honor the good in others and not to act in a bigoted way toward those who didn’t fit our “mold.” Our own family mold is not made of steel. It is pliable and ever changing and growing.

When Jake’s father and I divorced, everything we did was for his benefit. My ex embraced Jordan when he came along. We vacationed together, fished, played, went for rides and to events together. In many ways, our relationship grew into a deeper friendship. My family and I loved that man and we still do even though we are no longer in contact with him. I send him loving thoughts from afar.

This past Fourth of July weekend really drove my feelings home and inspired this episode. One of my brothers invited us to an impromptu cookout at his house. Of course we all showed up. Just shy of 20 people, all bringing food to share... laughing, playing, telling stories, and enjoying each other’s company. How blessed we are to be so compatible and to proudly call each other FAMILY.

I took that moment to take each person aside to record a message for Marsha, whose birthday is coming up this month. I turned it into a video for her with photos of us all. The grandkids expressing their love for her is both precious and priceless, as are the sentiments of all of her kids. I cannot wait to share the video with her on her birthday.

I can only imagine the wonderful energy of our upcoming family reunion in a few short weeks. Aunts and Uncles, second and third and fourth cousins from my grandfather and grandmother’s sides of the family. I am fortunate to have reconnected to all of them and to afford my youngest son the opportunity to do the same.

As for my siblings and my mothers, we’re so damned lucky to be so compatible, and to have stuck together even after the loss of my dad who was the glue that made us all one big family.

Is it hard living here? Sure it is. Was the move worth it? Absolutely!

Who do you call family? Whether it’s your brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, friends, community, or even your pets, the make-up of your personal family doesn’t have to be through a bloodline. And it’s for no one to question or place labels upon. You may not all agree on everything or share identical views, but your acceptance and love of one another is one of the most valuable gifts you could give or receive. Embrace it! Isn’t that what being a human should be all about? In what appears to be an era of utter intolerance, can we just all learn to be accepting and loving of one another? We shouldn’t allow incivility and hatred to overshadow respect and graciousness.

“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” ‑Virginia Satir, American Author and Social Worker (1916-1988)

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Until next time, love well my friends.

 

 

 

 

 


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