I've been estranged from my family for 17 years, but even when I did live with my parents, I didn't feel a part of a family. It's true that it was the adoptive family, but that really wasn't why I didn't feel a part of a family. It was because my parents were not "there", not available. They clothed, fed, and sheltered me and for the most part that is where their responsibilities ended.
I haven't seen my parents (us adoptees just say "parents" when we are referring to the family that we grew up in) in 17 years. My father did die during that period. But we can't afford to be bitter, there's no time to be bitter and it serves no purpose.
I occasionally run into extended "family" at bus stops or at the mall. Once or twice a year as of late I've been running into my cousin. She tells me a little bit about what is going on in her family, when I run into her. She is J., she is my late father's niece thru marriage. Well, the long and the short of it is that I haven't seen my aunt N. since 1981. Not because we're mad at each other, but because she is a stranger to me. She is my father's sister, and is 87 years old. I remember a little bit about her. Loud, abrasive, scratchy voice, chain smoker, who hugged me too hard and made promises that she never kept. Nonetheless, I saw so little of her that I consider a stranger. But when J. told me that L. is not in long term nursing care, I thought of "the photos".
There is a photo of aunt Noonie in my nursery at my new adoptive home. There is another photo of her at my high school graduation party. And that, I decided is reason enough to visit her a the nursing home! She's in some photos! (I don't really know her in that I can't remember seeing her more than a handful of times in my entire life.
On Monday, I went by the nursing home and they said she was currently in the hospital. I attempted unsuccessfully to walk there since I have no car.
On Wednesday of this week, I took the bus to the nursing home, with a significant amount of trepidation. In the entrance to the nursing home sits the gift shop. I looked around for a potential gift, but nothing "spoke to me." I needed a gift that would take the place of the fact that I don't have words for this situation. She could throw her arms wide open upon seeing me or "slam the proverbial door in my face!" I walked out and too the mall, hoping for more alternatives.
I need A YELLOW ROSE FOR FRIENDSHIP, AND A RED ROSE FOR LOVE. I looked around the Giant food store. There was no option for purchasing single flowers or even roses. I settled for a bouquet of pretty purple flowers with a touch of yellowthen walked back to the nursing home. With great caution, I walked toward her room.
When I saw that she was sleeping, I asked a nurse in the hallway, how Noonie, would feel about being awoken. (I'm a nervous wreck.) The nurse said, "She won't mind at all!" I walk into her room, sit in the guest chair, and gently CRINKLE THE CELOPHANE that covers the purple flowers, hoping that the sound will gently awaken her. It does!
She's still half asleep but, I said: "Hi Noonie, do you know who I am?" She shook her head yes. "Are you up for a visit?" She shook her head no. I place the flowers on her dresser, and leave the room, having no idea what to do next. Everytime I have to leave the nursing home, my doubts about attempting the visit again grow greater and greater.
I seek out a nurse who I hope might be compassionate. I explain that my Aunt hasn't seen me in 26 years, and I have no idea how to approach this problem. The nurse suggested that I come back at meal time, and the nursing home will give me a guest tray so I can eat with her. Yet again, I am forced to walk over to the mall, and wait an eternity until the home's dinner hour.
At 5:25 on the nose I walk back but Noonie is still asleep. I ask a nurse what's going on. She yells down the hall at me: "WHAT'S WRONG, WHY CAN'T YOU WAKE HER!" I thought, this loud nurse is not sensitive, and I am not going to enter into negotiations with her. I stop another nurse in the hall, and she tells me to wait in the waiting room, she will come and get me at 6:15 p.m. and we will walk down the hall together to Noonie for dinner.
I pray that this nurse will have the skills to help me ease into this awkward situation.
NURSE: "WAKE UP LIL! SHE YELLS. YOU BEEN SLEEPING ALL DAY! NOW TALK TO YOUR GUEST!"
My aunt scrunches up her nose at the command! and says nothing! I sit down and eat the longest meal of my life, trying to interpret her expressions and figure out how to proceed.
E-How's the food here? I ask.
Aunt N.-It's o.k.
I spend the next 20 minutes in silence. She can't get her creamer open, I ask if I can help.
Aunt N.-"No, I got it"
I'm thinking. Is she mad because I didn't go to my father's funeral? Does she want me to leave? Oyyy. What a mistake this was. As soon as I finish eating, I'm leaving. Finally, I address the elephant in the room.
E-"Do you want me to leave?" I ask.
Aunt N- "I don't care" "WHO ARE YOU, ANYWAY?!"
E-OMG, she doesn't know who I am!. "I'm Arnie's daughter, your niece!"
Aunt N-"I thought you might be, she smiled! but I wasn't sure!"
(part 2 comes later)