Thursday, November 15, 2012

Oh Happy Day!!

About 6 years ago, my twin brother moved from California to Florida. I hate to sound over dramatic about it, but it was near devastating to me. My brother and I are close. I knew that no distance could break the bond we share, but I was sensible enough to realize that our family dynamic would be changing. Joe would be missing out on our family dinners, holidays and parties. My sister and I have remained close in proximity to my parents, and even though we have our differences, it is nice that we are closeby and that we can call on each other when we need something, and that our kids can grow up together. Being states apart from my brother, our children would not grow up close to one another. Simply put, things would not be the same with him living so far away.

Joe loves Florida. He loves the heat and he loves the adventure. In the time he's spent away, he met and married his wife, Natalie, and they welcomed their first baby girl, Adri, into their family (2 1/2 years ago). And baby #2 is on his way!! They have done a good job keeping in touch; thank goodness for modern day technology to help with that! They usually make 1-2 visits per year, and we've gone out there twice on family vacations to visit. Truly, we've done the best we can to remain close and make sure that our children are familiar with their cousins, Aunts and Uncles. In fact, despite the distance, Natalie has become one of my closest friends. We talk to each other often on the phone. But it still isn't the same as having them here.

I've tried several times to convince Joe and Natalie to move to California. My efforts were always in vain; Joe's life had been established in Florida and he was happy living there. Since my mom's diagnosis, I have really felt more empty without my twin brother here to share in those precious moments that we have left as a whole family.

In May, three months after mom's diagnosis, Joe and Natalie (and Adri, of course) made a trip out here to visit. I think part of that visit was an urgency Joe felt to come and visit mom. At that time, we still had so many questions unanswered about her timeline and whatnot, as we had not yet had our follow-up with UCLA. We had a great time together, but it was very short-lived. He was only able to make a short weekend trip and before we knew it, he was on his way back to Florida with no definite plans set on a return visit.

Before he left, we, as a family, had a deep conversation about life and about mom. We talked until 2:00 in the morning. There were some tears shed (by the women, anyway); of course I made my usual proposition for Joe to move back home (but this time with good reason!) He told me,

"It's not that easy to just pick up and leave. I have a job, a house...our whole life is in Florida."

I realized that he was right. It was a tough pill to swallow. But he's right; it's not that easy to just pick up and leave your whole way of life behind.

The next month, our family (husband and kids) flew out to Florida where we spent 2 entire weeks with Joe's family. We hung around his parts of Florida and met up with some friends, altogether, in the Bahamas. It was such a sweet thing to see Adri playing with her cousins. Every morning she would come waltzing down the hallway and poking her head into my bedroom, saying,

"Aunt Cis [Sis], wake up!"

It was a sweet and happy time for all of us to be together and to bond. When we left, we missed Joe's family terribly. They missed us just as much.

And then something happened. Something I never imagined ever would. Joe began looking for jobs back in the West. I didn't want to get my hopes up. It sounded way too good to be true. But I started imagining what it would be like to have him close again-to have him for dinners, parties, date nights. To have cousin sleep-overs and playing with one another. By September, it was official. He took a transfer at his job to Arizona, just a 5 hour drive from our home, while he continues the hiring process for another job, which could land him back in California (processing time for that job could take up to a year).

I was wondering what had caused this sudden change of heart, although deep down I knew. When someone close to you is diagnosed with a terminal illness, priorities begin to change. As part of his announcement, he wrote a blog, which really touched me (sorry if that embarasses you, Joe). He gave me permission to share some of what he wrote.

"In March my mom was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. After her diagnosis, my sister was trying to convince me that this is reason enough for me to pack it up and come on back to SoCal. I of course wasn't having it. I had plans to stay here and didn't want to start over just to get there once my mom doesn't remember me. I'm not too optimistic that she will remember me in a year or two. There are a lot of things that I miss about SoCal but a lot of things I can't stand...

"Well in late June my sister's family came out to visit for a couple weeks. I got to see Adriana running around with her cousins having a good time and I actually got a break from her and got to be an adult for a while. Normally I'm either babysitting or entertaining the kid all day. We never get a break. With cousins around we got to let her go play and we could sit back and relax and have some time to ourselves for once. It was a nice break from our busy lives. Since then I just haven't really been the same. I've felt like even though there's so many good things going on in my life it's kinda empty sometimes. I've felt like I don't want to be here anymore. We have this nice house and a pool and it never gets used. It just seems kind of pointless..."

There comes a point in life where you realize what is most important. That's not to say that Joe's life in Florida wasn't important. He and Natalie had decent jobs, a beautiful home...but I think that he had re-priorized what is most important. It's not about the house or the things, it's about family. Our time with mom is limited. Really, our time with anyone is limited; we never know when our turn here on Earth is up. I know it was a sacrifice to make the move, especially for Natalie, who left behind some of her family in Florida. But I am glad that they chose to come home and make the most of the time we have left with mom, as well as make many happy memories between cousins and family.

Last week, my dad flew out to Florida, helped Joe load up the moving van and move cross-country. It took them 4 solid days to make the trek. Joe is now settling into his new place in Arizona and will be here for all of the holidays. I am so overflowed with joy that they have moved closer. I feel like our family is whole again...for the time being, anyway. I'm looking forward to a very memorable holiday season filled with family.

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