Family Resemblances

From the time he was born, people have always remarked on how much Christopher looks like Peter, and it has always annoyed me. When Christopher was little and I got tired of the same old jokes about the almost comical resemblance, I learned to respond with remarks like “Right, Papa on the outside, Mama on the inside”, but it wasn’t entirely true and it made no difference. When I took Christopher to city hall to get his own Austrian passport, I took Peter’s passport along with all the other documents, because the boys were both listed in it as his children. After checking the application, the documents and Christopher’s passport photo, the official opened Peter’s passport, looked at the picture and burst out laughing. I just sighed and said, “I assume you need no further proof that this man is indeed the father of this child.” She just chuckled and assured me that was clear enough.

Since Peter’s death, I often have the feeling that this situation has become even more exacerbated, less of a joking matter now. So often now, people who are missing Peter look at Christopher and their eyes go soft as they murmur, “Just like Peter!” Sometimes I feel as though I have to defend Christopher, point out again and again that he is not Peter, he is not “just like” Peter, he is Christopher – wholly and entirely himself. Christopher, however, generous and kind as he has always been, responds much more graciously, but also so politely that I can only guess how he feels about it.

John Derieg, 7 January 1930 - 11 May 1998. This picture is presumably from the mid-1950s.

My father at about the same age that Christopher is now – just minus the beard.

If I am quite honest, however, I have to admit that my irritation is not motivated solely by a desire to protect Christopher from projections and expectations that could burden or limit him. There is also an element of something else in it – something I’ll call jealousy, for lack of a better word. Other people see Peter in Christopher, because they knew Peter, yet when I look at Christopher, I see so much of my own father, which no one else can see, because no one else knew my father, who died sixteen years ago. I’m convinced that Christopher has my father’s eyes and his lovely dark hair, but more than that I feel that Christopher has much of my father’s temperament or character, and they certainly would have shared many interests, if they had had more time together. Sometimes I’ve felt that it seems so unfair that my father did not live long enough to see his grandchildren grow up. He would have enjoyed all seven of them so much. But at other times it can be comforting to feel that Christopher gives me a little bit of my father back again.

That being the case, I think what irritates me about the emphasis on the physical resemblance between Peter and Christopher is that it seems to obscure other connections, influences, similarities. While Christopher undoubtedly bears a visible resemblance to his father, Paddy has Peter’s keen sense of hearing and love of music, a very special bond that only the two of them shared. Sometimes I wish more people could see how much Paddy resembles Peter in different ways, affirm the strong connection between them and perhaps have a little more understanding for the loss that Paddy lives with.

Amy in conversation with Paddy some years ago. In one of the pictures my goddaughter-in-law shared, Amy's granddaughter is making the same face.

Amy in conversation with Paddy some years ago. In one of the pictures my goddaughter-in-law shared, Amy’s granddaughter is making the same face.

There is a reason why I have been thinking about this for several days now. A few days ago, my dear goddaughter-in-law posted new pictures of her adorable baby to Facebook. Along with the feeling of longing to hold my sister’s grandchild again, I had a feeling almost of shock as I gazed at the lovely pictures, because all I could see was a resemblance to Amy – Amy’s expressions, her gestures, her smile, her eyes … I had to force myself to refrain from commenting on each and every picture. Of course, seeing that resemblance unleashed a flood of memories and opened up that carefully guarded hole in my heart where I keep the pain of missing Amy, the ache of loss, the bottomless well of unspoken words from all the things I have needed to talk about with her since she died.

But when does it become annoying, limiting, oppressive to keep noting a perceived family resemblance? Is it something only I see because I miss Amy, the same way that people who are missing Peter look at Christopher and sigh, “Just like Peter”? I know there are other people in Evelyn’s life who love her and need her to belong to their lives as well, so I don’t want to impose my need to find traces of my sister.

Where does one draw the line between sharing memories and imposing them? At some point, children must surely have a certain right to choose whom they wish to be associated with or not. I am acutely aware of my own need to keep memories alive of loved ones now dead, but sometimes I think I need to remind myself not to forget loved ones still living while remembering the dead. To be able to learn to live with loss, you have to be among the living and fully alive.


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2 Antworten zu Family Resemblances

  1. Michela sagt:

    I can totally agree wt this post. Since my husband died everyone a always comments on how much she looks like her father, mostly bc she has blue eyes. But her Dad had green eyes and I don’t see much of a resemblance, she is beginning to look more like me actually. But I always thought it helped everyone else wt his passing, being able to say ’she looks so much like her dad‘ I fought it too for a while, now I say nothing. They tell me it’s like looking right at him when they see her, but really it’s not. They are so different looking, though their mannerisms are similar, like her stubborn attitude!!

  2. Aileen sagt:

    Thanks for commenting, Michela. It does seem to be a common theme, doesn’t it? For me, it really was only through my sister’s grandchild that I became conscious of how memories can be kept alive through looking for/finding family resemblances, but now it is easier to see how it can really be a two-edged sword.

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