Writing: Family

Most people will say that they have the best family in the world. That, if true, is a comforting thought. The idea that everyone everywhere loves their family is something to warm the spirit. However, that is not really true in all cases. I have close friends that are on bad terms with members of their family and come Christmas, to any other significant holiday, they’re stressed at the idea of how their family members will behave. A dear friend spends the month leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas stressing out about what the holidays will bring. Will her brother-in-law behave like a jerk? Will her parents and grandparents fight at the dinner table? Will her step-father make make a meal request and the criticise the end result when accommodated? (He has done this and far worse) These are awkward, to be sure, but still not the worst offences I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard stories of my own extended family that would make most people’s skin crawl. A thieving uncle, who embezzled a significant amount of money my father entrusted to him for the organisation of my parent’s wedding, a great-grandmother that bullied and beat my mother, a drug-addled uncle that stole furniture from my grandfather to fuel his drug habit. The list goes on. If I think about it, with a few exceptions, a lot of may family are jerks.

So, what is the point of my post? I guess the point is that for every horrid anecdote, there’s a positive story. Family is an almost limitless source of story inspiration. The tricky thing is that you might need to change the names and circumstances a bit to protect the not-so-innocent. Unless, of course, you’re not worried about a call from an angry aunt. It makes me think. How much can you reveal when you’re writing about real people? I think there are a few incredible stories that I would like to share, but I’ve always been worried about offending the subjects or hurting people in my family with what I write. Does the artist have the right to disclose private family secrets in order to share their life experiences with their audiences? If I were to write a story about someone in my family that is long dead, but I knew it would hurt someone else in my family, is it still right to do so? Does the third party have a say or does it come down to whether or not we’re prepared to defend our writing above someone’s memory? It’s a question that has always bothered me, but I’m starting to care less about the effect on others in favour of exorcising some of my family-inspired demons.

Back to the original thought of this post. I started by saying that many people will say that they have the best family in the world. I can say in all honesty that I have neither the best nor the worst. I can, however, say that I have a handful of exceptional family members. (Here comes the personal bit). For now, take it as read that my parents and my big brother fall into the wonderful category. I’ll come back to them in a separate post.

At the moment, I’m thinking about the family I married into. I have two brothers-in-law, two corresponding sisters-in-law, a mother-in-law still living and five nieces and nephews. Although we have all always been close, and I took it as read that they loved me as much as I loved them, it wasn’t until I got my cancer diagnosis that I really and truly appreciated how great our family is. Every week, without exception, I have seem my family. They have come to me or have invited me to be with them. Every invitation with the caveat that it’s down to how well I’m feeling and that they would accommodate my needs and wishes. Now, these are busy people, with lives and jobs and school and social clubs  and activities and packed calendars and a myriad of other obligations. Yet, every day, I hear from one of them and every week, I’m blessed with their company. Did I really think about and  appreciate how great they are, how loved I am? In all honesty, probably not as much as I should have. It’s quite something to realise one day, when you’re feeling at your lowest and most vulnerable, that not only are you not alone, but that you have an entire collection of non-blood relatives that love you. How fucking cool is that?! I’ve always known I was lucky in my in-laws in that we all got along, loved each other and had fun together, but it’s quite another thing to know and have the evidence before you that they’re in it for better or for worse. To give another example,  some close friends have abandoned me in this difficult time. Probably because they haven’t know what to do or say or are just plain incapable of hanging in there when things get tough. (that was a hard revelation to digest) But my comfort is in knowing that as much as I’ve always known I’d do anything for my husband’s family, they’d do anything for me. It makes this shitty period in my life all the more bearable.

I know there’s no real structure to this post. I was just thinking about family in general, but it’s interesting to consider all of the connotations. Like everything, there are good and bad examples. I just think that its worth thinking about and if you’re brave enough, writing about.

If you’re feeling up to it, think about an experience, good or bad, where family played a significant role and describe what happened that what you learned. Good luck.


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