Monday, January 4, 2010

Cleaning Out My Closet

I'm in purge mode again. I usually engage in The Great Toy Purge every year before Christmas - you know, out with the old, broken, ignored, in with the shiny, new, novel. I didn't get to it this year before Christmas, however, so now I'm itching for it. More than toys, though; I am determined to go through this house room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, cabinet by cabinet, and get rid of everything that is just taking up space.

I am finding that this urge to purge is extending to people, too. I know that sounds harsh, and cold, and extreme. But there it is: there are people in my life who are just taking up space. Or at least people on my Christmas card list. That's what I'm really talking about.

Thoughts about this have been on the periphery of my mind for some time, but the issue became concrete today when I received a belated Christmas card from my dad's brother and his wife. It was clearly an afterthought. And it's not like I'm close to these people, so I'm not hurt, exactly. Just disappointed. And ready to let go and move on.

My dad's family - his parents and his brother and sister - moved back to Illinois when I was very young. I must have been only 3 or 4 - I know I wasn't yet in school when they moved away. Before they moved, I think we were fairly close. I know my grandparents babysat me and my brothers frequently, and I have vague memories of being at their house. When they moved away, though, it was like they put us - me and my brothers - out of their minds for the most part. My parents divorced within a year or two of their moving away, and perhaps that had something to do with it, too. Anyway, over the next 35+ years, I saw my grandparents exactly three times: once, when we drove to Illinois because my dad was to be in his brother's wedding; once when I was in my early 20's and my grandparents were out here in California visiting; and finally, at my dad's funeral eleven years ago. Now my grandparents are both gone; they died within a few months of each other a couple years ago. When they died, I wasn't even sad - how could I be? They were strangers to me.

And so it has been with my dad's brother and sister. When my dad died, though, I tried very hard to make a connection with them. I wrote to them, I gave them my email address, hoping they would keep in touch. I think I wanted to somehow keep a connection to my dad in this way. But for whatever reason, they were never interested in keeping in touch with me, except to exchange annual Christmas cards.

I sent my dad's siblings each a holiday card this year - weeks ago. And like I usually do with far-flung friends and relatives, I wrote a letter to them letting them know what's been going on with us over the last year. I even told them briefly about everything we've gone through with Michael having cancer this past year. They're family. Right?

But when I got my uncle's belated Christmas card today, it just became very clear to me that I am wasting my time. There was nothing in it but a signature - no words of support or concern. Not that I was looking for pity when I told them about Michael's cancer - but, they're family, right?

Really, they're not. We're strangers. And it's probably nobody's fault. But why do I keep trying?

There are various other people on my annual Christmas card list who I wonder why I keep trying to have this connection, however minor. "Friends," who really aren't friends at all. People who I call "friend" out of habit more than anything else. People with whom I'm really not in touch anymore, people with whom I have little in common, people who have faded away, people with whom I've had big, tearful, dramatic endings with, people who I don't even feel good about when I think about them.

And yet, I keep sending them Christmas cards every year. Why?

So I'm going to purge. I'm going to whittle it down to the people I really care about and have positive relationships with. What's the point otherwise?

Life is too short.


The Beers Family said...

So very true! And yet hard to do! I am on the verge of some of that myself.

Love the new blog layout!

ashamom said...

You know what? I don't even do cards. I think they are stress inducing so I stopped doing them years ago. I feel guilty pretty often, but the convenience of not doing them wins over.

Michelle said...

I can relate to this post so much. I lost my mom to breast cancer (she was 43, I was 22) and had hoped to make a connection with her brother. I've tried and he's failed many times in the 12 years since her death. I 'think' I'm at peace with it, but it's hard to know for sure...just letting you know you're not alone.