When It Comes to Family, There’s No Right Way

The headline is something I’ve been reminding myself of over the last few weeks. You see, back about a month ago, my father fell extremely ill and was hospitalized. I chose to not travel across the country to see him because I had other things going on, work, dental surgery, etc. But I stayed in touch with family and kept up with what was going on. As it turned out, he passed away the same night that I was on a flight to Sydney, Australia. I found out hours later and had to make a choice. Go over to the ticket counter and figure out if I could turn around and go home, then come back in  a few days after the service, or stay, get on with the work I was sent there to do, and go home in a couple of weeks.

Frankly, both choices sucked. I chose to stay, and now I’ll go back to Columbus, Ohio next week instead. On one hand, I’ll get to visit with my family after the initial rush of people in for the service have left, on the other, I missed my own father’s memorial. Regardless of what type of relationship I did, or didn’t, have with him that seems like a harsh phrase. I get the feeling not everyone agreed with my decision, but that’s the thing. In the end, it was my decision to make.

Sometimes, as survivors, we do everything we can to “keep the peace” within our families. All too often, we suppress our own well-being for the sake of keeping everyone else happy. The truth is though, that no one else needs to be happy with the choices we make when it comes to our own families, only we do.

I’ve known plenty of survivors who have no relationship with their families any longer. I’ve known others who felt supported and had healed relationships with their parents and families, and I’ve known more, including myself, who fall somewhere in between. It’s when you’re in that in-between state that you have to make some tough calls. A long time ago, a very smart therapist told me that I was the only one who could decide what kind of relationship I had with my parents and other family members, and that I didn’t have to answer to anyone once I figured it out.

I don’t know that I ever figured it out exactly. I think it’s always been a constant stream of decisions, of how much interaction to have, how much was too much, how much I wanted to be involved in family drama, and when it was better to simply stay out of it. Once we had moved away, and then especially once I started traveling so much for work, I think the limited contact just became normal for everyone. It also became an easy excuse. I wasn’t distant from family because of any decision I made, but because work kept me away. It was a convenient reason until something like this happens, and then we all have to confront the fact that I stayed in Australia. I made that decision. I had plenty of reasons for making that decision, not the least of which was the physical toll of flying back and forth between the US and Australia multiple times in a week, but it was my decision. No one else had to make that same decision. No one else has the same exact relationship with the man that I did, no one else has to live with my story and my reality. They have theirs, and I have mine, and it’s OK if they may have made a different decision.

Survivor or not, we each get to choose how we grieve. It’s not something other people get to do for you, or decide for you. I’ve always said that about healing, and it’s true in this situation as well. How I healed, how I grieve, how I interact with various family members doesn’t have to be how everyone else does it, and how others do it doesn’t have to be how I do it.

What’s important is that I make the decision for myself, and accept whatever comes from that. For me, I simply had to make my choice, and own it, regardless of whether someone else would have done the same. That’s the only “right” choice.


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  1. Thanks for this. I can only imagine what a difficult decision that was. Being a survivor myself, I know how hard it is to stand up to family members. But, as you said, we get to make our own decisions.

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