We went to Chris’s aunt and uncle’s house two evenings ago for pre-Christmas festivities. His aunt made a delicious Kerala chicken stew with appams, a fermented and leavened coconut and rice-based “pancake” that is spongy and puffy on the inside and crispy and lacey on the outside edges. I wasn’t really sure what the mood would be given that his aunt’s brother in Kerala had recently passed away in the last month, plus their youngest son had separated from his wife in July, but it was obvious that things were different because the décor had changed dramatically.
The last time I came two years ago, the house was pretty evenly split up with photos of both of their sons and their respective lives. Their oldest son is married with three sons, and their younger son had gotten married in 2015. On prominent mantles in the living room, the space was evenly divided: one son’s wedding photos on one side, the second son’s wedding photos on the other. On another mantle, photos of the first son and his wife, plus their children, with couple shots of the second son and his wife. The walls pretty much followed the same pattern. It was obvious that whoever decorated and chose the photos was very deliberate about making the love for both sons and sides “even.” That person is Chris’s aunt.
This time, all the wedding photos from the second son that I remembered that were on the fridge were removed. In fact, ALL wedding photos of both sons and their wives were gone. The only photos that remained were of the four grandchildren, three from the first son and one from the second son. The only time one of the sons appeared in photos was when one of the grandchildren was present.
Well, that was quite intentional.
His aunt at one point of the evening pulled me aside. I guess I have what the Charisma Mythbook calls “empathy” charisma; people just love to tell me all the things they keep a secret from others.
“I still haven’t told extended family that they have separated,” she confided in me. “I just don’t know what to say, especially with their child. I struggled with whether I should just keep the photos the way they were or just take down Andrew’s wedding photos, but then I thought when relatives would come over, they would ask why I only displayed Robin’s and not Andrew’s, and I don’t want to answer their questions. So, I thought it would be best to just take down all their photos and leave the grandchildren’s. I rushed to get it done before Andrew arrived back. This way, no one would say anything. Maybe Andrew will say something, but I can deal with him. Other relatives and friends, I don’t want to deal with them asking and wondering why.”
I felt sad for her. She’s powerless. She cannot do a single thing to make that situation better. But at the end of the day, I suppose there’s no reason to tell people who aren’t close because what good does that do? It only begs for more questions about why and how, which are all futile.