The Comfort of Family

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

I spent the first half of my life searching for “family.” Yes, I have my immediate blood family, but I always knew there was more to it than just my parents and siblings. I have a boatload of aunts, uncles, and cousins, at least half of whom are on the other side of the Atlantic, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how many or where they all live. And I don’t know most of them. I know maybe a tenth of the living members of my family tree. 

The second half of my life (so far) has shown me what “family” really is. 

Let’s go back to my immediate family. We were the model “nuclear” family of the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Mom, dad, four kids, no extended family in sight. My dad was military, so we traveled a lot. I was lucky enough to grow up with a “stay-at-home” mom, as did many of my peers in those days. My folks, mainly my mom, raised three rather rambunctious children (one sibling came along later). At the same time, my dad was assigned temporary duty in various parts of Africa, Cold-War Eastern Europe, and Vietnam. 

I tried to emulate my parents in my first marriage, but that failed spectacularly. Luckily, the kids survived with minimal emotional scars. 

In the past thirty years, my definition of family has morphed. Since my parents passed, two of my siblings have taken a hard right (and think the rest of us are drinking the Kool-Aid) while the other moved closer to me (we were always close). Some of us can agree to disagree, others not so much.

First Reader and I have quite an extensive family, and not all members have blood ties, but the bonds are just as real. Our family extends to folks we’ve each known since long before we met. Her extended family has become my extended family and vice-versa. That includes people that we, individually, might not have otherwise had the opportunity to get to know. My life, at least, is richer for the diversity. 

Now that I’ve found my tribe, I miss seeing them like I did before all the virus insanity gripped the world. The hardest part is not being able to hug the littles. While they “kind of” understand why they can’t, the impulse is strong. I’ve had the opportunity to visit (from a safe distance and always with a face covering) my kids once every couple weeks. The youngest almost always hovers in then zooms away at the last second. I send him air hugs and he will get upset. It’s hardest on the littles, but I want to see them all graduate high school and watch what kind of adults they become.

I’ve come to realize that my tribe keeps me healthy, and not being able to see them is affecting my mental health in ways I should have expected. I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from depression, which is probably hereditary in my case. Since I met First Reader, I’ve been diagnosed and placed on anti-depressants. Even when medicated, some days are a struggle, and I’ve run out of medication. The current healthcare insurance scam … er, industry doesn’t help, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks her money can be better spent than on over-priced prescription drugs. I can’t wait to see what that’s going to cost on my current sub-standard healthcare plan. But that’s a post for another day.

For now, I find ways to cope with the isolation. I thank my lucky stars that I’m not totally alone up here on the mountain, like so many of my neighbors. With restrictions loosening around the United States, I’m concerned that more people will become ill. And that the next round of isolation will be even harder on folks with more severe depression than me. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, so please, take the time to check on your family, your friends, all the souls that make up your tribe. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources to help cope during this global pandemic. Military veterans might also need an extra hand at this time. The US Department of Veterans Affairs also has information to help vets identify mental health issues and suggestions on how to cope. 

Now is the time we will find our “families.” Whether that family is related by blood or related in spirit, these are the people who will help us through this tough time. We can help see one another through this crisis by reaching out to remind our tribes that we need each other now more than ever.

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