It was less than 5 years ago that I was sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out who to invite to my small wedding. There were people who I knew had to be there. My best friend who lived in Virginia at the time was one of them. I hadn't seen her since 5th grade but we emailed almost weekly (or monthly as our lives got busier) ever since. Some family members like my grandparents were an obvious certainty. Then came the time to cut the list.
Who did I want to be there? Who did I think would care to be there?
As I sat there, I thought back to the previous 17 years of my life since my family had moved to Colorado. Which family members had I talked to? Which family members had constantly tried to remain in contact with me? The answer? Almost none of them. It suddenly dawned on me that in 17 years, not one of them had even walked in our front door. Yet in the early years after moving, my family would always visit California to visit them. The reverse though...no. That never happened. In large part, that's why my family stopped visiting as I grew up. They felt the effort was never being made on the other end. Happy birthday phone calls and cards never existed nor did just an occasional chat to check in.
At the age of 3, you don't choose who's in your life. They choose you and by the time you're old enough to make your own decisions, it's nearly impossible that you'll think about these people as more than a name.
So when I sat down and contemplated who to invite, I created a category in my mind for relatives closest on the family tree that I wish I had gotten to know. These were the people I'd seen occasionally when my family would visit. This cutoff led me to not invite a family member and his wife that I had only remembered briefly meeting twice. There was nothing malicious about my decision. I honestly didn't see why this person would even care to be at my wedding. They had never contacted me before...so why would it matter now?
Looking back, I sometimes wish I didn't even invite some of the family members from this side of the family that I had, at the time, wished to get to know. There's one I'm still glad I invited. Throughout her preteen and teenage years, she'd message me to chat and constantly talk about wanting to visit. I'm sure she had no idea, but this meant so much to me. In a world where I thought the majority of my relatives didn't care, she was the only one who was constantly trying to reach out. I still wish I'd get a chance to know her, but sadly, it seems unlikely now.
After I sent off the invites, it was only a matter of days until the outrage began. I received the first email from my uncle (probably in my entire lifetime), telling me that I was an inconsiderate person and that I was lying about only inviting relatives I had been in contact with. He then called out the names of two relatives that were invited that he presumed I didn't speak to. Funny enough, these more "distant" relatives in his eyes, had visited multiple times in the recent years and emailed us back and forth. But looking back, maybe I was being a hypocrite. Not for inviting these "distant" relatives, but for inviting my uncle in the first place. After all, how much had I seen him either? A few more times I suppose then the relative that didn't make the cut off, but not by much.
How much had he ever tried to get to know me when I was a child? Not at all. For some reason at the time though, it somehow seemed important to me to get to know my uncle.Ironically, through this battle amongst the family, the only person who never spoke out was the uninvited relative. He was going on a cruise during my wedding and I hope he had a blast. I'd much rather that he be somewhere enjoying himself than at the wedding of a stranger. Sending him an invite would have only made it seem like I wanted a gift... And why should I get one from someone I don't know? I shouldn't.
It's five years later and the drama this unraveled still looms in the air. Every year for my anniversary, I try to no end to make it special because my grandparents and my uncles took away a piece of my wedding day that I'll never get back. They made the memory a tainted one. I'm sure some of them may even be smiling knowing that. "She deserves it." "It was her choice." But it wasn't. It was never my choice to be dumped by my family when I moved states at 3 years old. It was never my choice to not hear from any of you. It was never my choice to be ignored because of whatever underlying issues that were within the family.
About half a year after my wedding, I visited my grandparents, who were still angry about my decision. As I tried to explain how I was feeling, my grandmother interrupted me saying that she should never have walked down the aisle at my wedding. In a moment of rage, I responded with profanity that I rarely use and stormed out of the house in tears. It was so special to me to have my grandparents walk down the aisle at my wedding, and to know that it wasn't special to her, was as big of an insult as when my other already deceased grandmother told me at 12 that she wouldn't love me anymore if I married out of the family religion.
Once again, I was being told that this love wasn't unconditional.Why was it my responsibility to have relationships with family members that never wanted one with me? Why was no one mad at them? Why was I always the villain? These questions pour through my head almost daily as I try to wrap my head around the most obvious answer. That they never truly loved me wholeheartedly.
After about a year passed, I decided to see my grandparents again. When I was 14, I chose to cut my other grandmother out of my life for the pain she caused me. I did not want to do it again. As we began to make amends, or so it seemed, I tried to move on. My husband and I began to do our best to go to family functions, such as my grandmother's birthday party and my grandparents anniversary party.
In my eyes, family is about being supportive and understanding. It's about communication, mutual love and respect. Family is not about ignoring people and attacking them for their own decisions, especially when you've never been a part of their lives in the first place.
The saddest part to me through all of this is that there is still a cousin or two of mine that I wish I could get to know. They've never responded to the drama but at the same time, I know it's a hard place for them to be in. And I respect that fully.
At the end of the day, all I can do is let this experience be in the past. It taught me what family truly means and what I want and who I want in my life, my husband's life, and my son's life.
Surround yourself with the people who always cared about you, effortlessly and unconditionally.
The other people are merely names that will eventually fade away as they distance themselves further and further. Don't let one stranger's opinion affect how you see yourself and don't second guess your gut feelings and your choices. You made them for a reason and the truth is, people will show their true colors over time.
I'm grateful that my son is growing up with already more support and love from here to New Zealand than I ever had. Already, he has grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins who speak to him almost every day, even if it's a Skype call from across the ocean. He couldn't have asked for a better family unit and I will continue to do my best to surround him with those who I know truly care.
Read my follow up story: "The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)"
Read my follow up story: "The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)"