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expectations-family-letting go

Unmet expectations

So Abram said to Lot: Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. (Genesis 13:8)

“You have a perfect family,” my friend Jim used to tell me. Of course, he knew the quirks and dysfunctions of my family, but it was his way of reminding me to intentionally look for the good—and to be grateful.expectations-family-letting goI was reminded of this the other day when I was praying for the people on my prayer list—a hand-written list I keep in my Liturgy of the Hours book. Some people on the list are very close to me—family and friends—and others are people I have been asked to pray for, people I often don’t even know, but who have undergone some great suffering—divorce, illness, job loss, etc.

Several of the families lost children to drug overdoses or suicides. Others have been shattered by misunderstandings, betrayal, or some other dysfunction. Illness, accidents, drugs, alcohol, mental illness—the list of things that can go wrong in a family is long.

Four years ago, I moved home to be near my family. It was a good move for me, and I am deeply grateful for the way my family (both immediate and extended) has welcomed me and created a space for me in their lives. I feel blessed by my relatives, but I know that not everyone has that same experience.

Sometimes families are like Abram and Lot who “could not dwell together.” (Genesis 13:6) Abram was wise to recognize the issues and address them, but I am not sure that happens very often. More often, I think people hold onto an image of what they think a family should be.expectations-family-letting goA friend recently told me that her brother had manipulated their mother into taking $10,000 from the bank and giving it to him. It is, of course, not about the money—whether it is $10,000, $100,000 or $10—it is about the manipulation and sense of betrayal.

Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be so difficult, but holding onto them is much more painful. Wishing and hoping that people will act in a certain way is a set-up for disappointment.expectations-family-letting goBut it must be fairly common to have high expectations for our families, because I keep meeting people who are surprised by some relative’s actions—like my friend who expected her brother to keep his hands off their mother’s money.

My family was perfect in that it was a great training ground for me in letting go. As a young child, I learned that more often than not things were not going to turn out as I hoped, so I needed to readjust my expectations. Over time, I have learned to ask God, What is the invitation in this? What am I to learn when my expectations are not met, when I am disappointed?

The lesson is usually about my unrealistic expectations, and the invitation is to let go.expectations-family-letting go

 

 

 

 

Crossing Over

My dog loves to cross the street, any and every street. At driveways or corners, she often pauses and looks longingly toward the other side. The wider the street, the more wistfully she seems to eye it. “Do you want to cross?” I will ask, and then follow as she merrily runs across.

I recently had a dream about crossing a street—a very wide street like Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. In some spots, Roosevelt Boulevard has five lanes in each direction, broken up into outer service drives of two lanes, and the main road of three lanes each way. Crossing it can take a long time and can be very dangerous.

In my dream, I was aware of how wide the road was and how dangerous. I approached the crossing in segments—first the service drive, then three lanes in one direction, three in the other and the other service drive. I was relieved when I made it to the curb on the other side.

Walking Detroit this morning and watching her eye the street for possible places to cross reminded me of the dream and the potential dangers in crossing to another side.

The past few years have had a number of crossing-over experiences for me in terms of relationships, jobs and where I live. Each time I reach a plateau, some sense of familiarity and comfort, I have a sense of accomplishment—I experience it as having crossed over. I am no longer on that side, but now I am on this side. The difference is tangible.

Recently, the crossings have felt like they are bringing me closer and closer to myself, to the “me” I used to be before Jim got sick and everything turned upside down—but with a twist. All that I have been through these past few years has changed me so that my new self is somehow a bit different from my old.

I now have a clearer sense of my inner strength, of what I am capable of doing and of what really matters to me. I am more aware of the importance of being centered and staying centered; and I think I catch myself more quickly when I am veering away from my true north.

I can look back to how life used to be and where I once was, and remember it with fondness. But now I live on the other side of the street. The grass is not any greener, but I did not expect it would be. What is different is that I am becoming more comfortable, more familiar with what is on this side of the street, and it is feeling more like home.

 

Rescue

“She’s a rescue dog,” said my five-year old neighbor, pointing at our dog Detroit as I was walking her one day. I was impressed that he had remembered my earlier conversation with his mother about how we had rescued Detroit from a shelter.
“Yes, she is,” I responded.
“What can she do?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, “can she climb a ladder on a fire truck?”
“No,” I chuckled, “but she will bark if there is danger.”
“She’s not barking now,” he said.
“We must not be in any danger,” I assured him.

Two days later, though, Detroit did alert me to danger.

On that particular day, two years ago, my friend Jim was scheduled to pick Detroit up at noon for a weekend at his house. His custom was to call me when they got to his house to let me know she was taken care of. But on that day, no call came and I knew something was wrong.

Jim had collapsed in his office and when EMS got him to the hospital, a scan looking for a concussion revealed that Jim had brain cancer. If not for the dog, I probably would not have been concerned about Jim’s whereabouts until it was too late.

So much has changed since that day two years ago. Jim lived for nine more months and then died peacefully at home. Earlier this year, I quit my job and sold my house in Pennsylvania. Now Detroit and I live in Michigan where I have started a new job and bought a new house.

I often reflect on how important Detroit was to Jim, both before and after he got sick. Now, she is important to me.

In this new place where I am building a new life and don’t know many people, she is my faithful companion.

Every evening when I get home from work, she is anxiously awaiting my arrival. We go for a walk and then a little later, she wants to play. Eventually, she rolls over for me to rub her belly and scratch behind her ears.

She is happy in our new home with its fenced-in yard and resident rabbits, squirrels and birds. Her antics make me laugh.

In this time of transition, when I can sometimes feel so sad at what I have lost, she reminds me to live in the moment and appreciate all we have.

Initially, we rescued her, but she has returned the favor many times over.

Coming Home

“Only you,” a friend said when I told her I had been asked to speak at a fundraiser for a cancer research foundation. I had just moved back to Detroit two days earlier and serendipitously met the director of the foundation. The fundraiser was a fashion show based on the themes of the Wizard of Oz—brains, courage, heart and home. I was asked to speak about home. I shared the following story about my coming home:

My cousin Marlene was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October, 2008. She and her husband lived in Phoenix, AZ, and I visited them the following May. By then, Marlene had finished traditional treatment and was enrolled in an experimental protocol.

“Why don’t you go home?” I asked Marlene.

“I am going to beat this,” she said, “and if I go home, that is like saying I am going to die.”

“No,” I said. “You can go home and beat this there or not, but you will be with family.”

At home, in Michigan, Marlene had children, grandchildren, siblings and our large extended family. But, she would not consider my suggestion. Seven months after my visit, Marlene died in Arizona.

Marlene’s illness and death rocked me and made me reconsider my own situation. I, too, was living away from family, and I began to wonder what would happen if I became seriously ill. I came to realize that once Marlene got sick, it was impossible for her to move home because she had neither the physical nor emotional strength needed for such a move.

I soon decided that I wanted to move home to Michigan, and I shared my decision with my friend Jim. One week after that, Jim had a seizure and was diagnosed with a very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. He had had no symptoms.

He underwent surgery, chemo and radiation to extend his life; but we knew from the beginning that he would not live long.

Jim asked me to help him to live until he died. He did not want to be kept alive or to live or die in the hospital. He lived with me the last seven months of his life and died a very peaceful death on April 3, 2012, at home, with his dog by his side.

During Jim’s illness, we often talked about how important it is to know where we are “at home.” We also talked about my moving back to Michigan to be near my family.

Three weeks ago, I moved home. I was fortunate to get a job at the Mercy Education Project, a literacy program in Detroit, which is the same work I had been doing in Philadelphia. I sold my house in Pennsylvania within two weeks, and I have already bought a house here.

I take all of these as signs that I am in the right place, and I agree with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: “There is no place like home.”