Family Fortunes

Call me naive but if there is one thing I don’t get it’s when I hear about brothers and sisters who ignore one another or parents and children who haven’t spoken in years. One of my most tragic recollections as a Rabbi is the time I officiated at a funeral to which only half the family turned up. The other half opted out and held their private service else. What a way to bid a final farewell to their mother. The infighting itself is probably what killed her – and they chose to take it right to her grave.

I was reflecting on this early last week after reading that EDF energy in the UK has launched a campaign encouraging families to be more in touch. This came on the back of a statistic suggesting millions of Britons fail to speak to older family members even once a week – and see them less often than five years ago.

A combination of time pressures and modern technology are no doubt the culprits. The pressures of modern-day living – getting the office to the school pickup to the piano lesson to the kitchen to make dinner hardly leaves time to visit Mom and Dad. But there’s always the mobile phone-call the car or the quick Skype off the iPad that could supplement and pacify the conscience somewhat.

But can one really make up for the other? Can the personal embrace, the natter over a cuppa in the kitchen, or the laugh in the lounge really be replaced with an “I love you,” over the telephone, or a conversation through an internet stream?

A fifth of all adults admitted to visiting elderly relatives less often than they did five years ago and nearly half of this group said it was because they were living further away. I’m going to safely assume that ‘further away’ means instead of several blocks away, possibly now on the other side of town or maybe even several towns over. Is that then too much of an inconvenience?
And what of those who don’t even speak to their elderly family members once a week? Is life really too hectic to take the time to just call and say hi? Think about all the other calls made during the course of a week – to a friend, the bank or the reservationist at your hairdresser and determine your priorities really lie.

I live quite a distance my parents. London to Toronto is hardly a hop, skip and jump away. For the most part when my parents were younger, I would ensure to visit at least once a year and they in turn would visit me once a year. I wouldn’t describe them today, septuagenarians as they are, as elderly, and my mother would never forgive me if I did. But since my father took ill a little under three years ago, I have made a conscious decision to visit more often. My journeys across the pond now average at least five times a year. Are these trips expensive? Very! But money comes and goes. Family doesn’t. They’re here today and after they’re gone tomorrow there’s no turning back the clock. Can you really put a price on that?

People are always forgiving when it comes to other families. When it comes to ones own, it’s all guns blazing. And yet nothing can quite compensate as that of the love of family. I’d like to think it is precisely because you always hurt the ones you love that siblings or children care so much about each other so as to fight so dreadfully.

Ask yourself this: When the inevitable happens – and it does for each of us – do you imagine yourself standing there wishing you’d spent that little bit more time, expended that little bit more energy, and yes even spent that little bit more money on making the effort to have visited more often? Will you be riddled with guilt for the fact that you allowed petty squabbling to get in the way of true love and so much time to pass without talking to one another? If the answer is, hopefully, yes, then the question becomes simply one of: What are you waiting for?