The author chose to remain anonymous.
Today I learned that my niece was selected as one of the top two finalists for her middle school Valedictorian. She has always been an incredibly smart girl and excelled in her academics as far back as I can remember. Her interest in getting a good education seems to come directly from the heart. She shows a genuine love for school, and this amazing honor is one of my proudest for her.
Unfortunately, she will never know how I feel.
Our family is no longer on speaking terms with her parents. And as a result, we haven’t seen our not-so-little-anymore niece in almost two years.
If you were to ask why…well….
My two brothers and I had a fairly close relationship growing up, but it certainly wasn’t a ‘bond that could never be broken.’ As we went through our childhood, some days we were closer than others. We were each very unique from one another, and as such began to lead very different lives which became more widespread as we entered our teen years and into college.
Our careers were starting, and we moved to different parts of the country. Eventually we all married and had children…starting families of our own. And though we continued to stay in touch and get together whenever possible, life took us even further apart when a decision was made to severe all ties with both of them.
My niece was the first newborn in our family when my oldest brother got married. I can’t even begin to describe the relationship we had with her growing up. We saw each other virtually everyday, we attended almost all of her school and sporting events, and always showed her a genuine love that made her feel like a little princess. I would even like to think I was considered the ‘fun uncle’ in her life, as I was the only one in the family who would play all sorts of cool games with her along the way.
The tumultuous relationship with my older brother finally came to a head back in November of 2013, where our falling out meant we would no longer get to see the niece that I had grown so close to. Calling, email, and texting were not an option since all three would be intercepted by the parents who we wanted nothing to do with anymore.
But just because we weren’t on speaking terms with their parents, we didn’t want to stop communication with their children. So we attempted to stay in touch with her by writing letters once a month. We would share what was happening on our end, how our son was doing, and would always ask what was new and exciting in her life as well. However this penpal relationship quickly ended when my brother sent all of those letters back…unopened…requesting we stop immediately.
Having been such a major part of my niece’s life, it hurts us to no longer be involved as she continues down the path of childhood and becomes a young woman. But we have accepted the reality of the situation and will always hold a special place (and special feelings) for her in our hearts.
There are plenty of people who will tell us we have to find a way to fix the relationship with my brothers, and that ‘family is always first’. Perhaps in time, that moment will come. But now it’s just too soon. Many feelings were hurt, and many bridges were burned. I realize the role I played in this divide, and having experienced a separation we never anticipated, I will no longer judge others who have chosen the same path.
But just because we can’t see our niece, that doesn’t mean we aren’t still proud of her accomplishments.
And with the help of our personal Footprints, we are able to regularly document how we feel and how often we think about her. Because we know full-well that one day, she will see the Footprint we have left behind about our life story. And even though it might be too late, she will hopefully realize that we had no intentions of abandoning her. Despite what her parents may tell her, we wish nothing but the best in her journey…now, and forever.
So as for my message to you sweetie: “until such time that we meet again, I want you to know that we are all very proud of you. Keep your dreams alive, and don’t stop reaching for the stars. Love you much. -Uncle Joe”