What it means to have family on the sidelines

I did not play a lot of organized sports in high school. I was more the yearbook, school newspaper, behind the scenes of drama club, school chorus, spelling bee, 4-H, peer tutoring kind of student. If there was work to be done, I was there. If a volunteer was needed, I was all over it.

I wasn’t much of an athlete. I played pickup games of softball and dodgeball, but had little interest in the regular team sports. I did play field hockey; not awfully aggressively, but I played.

My sisters were quite young and my adopted parents were very busy with our farm and their accounting business, but whenever I had a home game, they were all there on the sidelines, shouting encouragement and supporting my sports endeavor.

They were there for my 4-H shows too, standing at the edge of the huge tent that served as the show ring for the beef steers and sheep. They would follow me to the stalls, celebrating with me in my victories and giving me encouragement in my defeats.

I am showing what turned out to be my Grand Champion steer in the 1970s.

They also supported my more creative side. They knew my love of storytelling through written word and encouraged me to take college writing classes while I was still in high school, and arranged for me to work with an author who was a friend of the family.

Mom, who was trained as a French teacher, and Dad, who was a sports writer for a newspaper before becoming a CPA, gave me honest critique, and therefore honest praise when warranted. I felt them “cheering” for me on the sidelines of this activity so dear to me.

I did not realize at the time how important that was to me. My family, by their presence, told me that what was important to me was important to them too.

When I left home as a young adult, I thought I was above needing that kind of encouragement and “cheering” any longer from my family. It helped me grow into adulthood and I had moved to the next phase.

Right?

It took me a few years to figure it out, but I recently realized how important that kind of family support is throughout our lives. It changes form as we move through different stages of living, but it stays with us. And I have a very supportive family.

I don’t have a lot of clear memories of the last two weeks spent in the hospital with my husband Jim when he was dying from what we discovered too late was pancreatic cancer, but I do remember Mom and my sister sitting with me for hours at a time.

I felt their presence, even when they weren’t there because their love for me and their support was so strong. They and other family members, along with friends, would check in with me often. I realize now their love and concern held me up.

But when Jim died, I kind of disconnected from my closer relationships. Call it cowardice or a time of healing or an inability to offer the kind of energy it takes to maintain close relationships or fear of the feelings associated with close relationships — whatever it truly was, it kept me from enjoying my family the way I should.

The last six years have felt like lost years to me in that regard.

My family, in typical fashion, would not let me totally disengage. They were always there, checking in if they hadn’t heard from me, making sure I attended some family gatherings, and coming to some of the dog events where I participated.

They never left the sidelines. They never stopped cheering. They never withdrew their support of my endeavors.

Family is not about blood, although that can be an important aspect of it. Family is about love.

Sharing a laugh with Quincy at a recent hotel stay.

I recently was showing my Brittany dog Quincy in a conformation competition (think way scaled-down Westminster) and one of my sisters and our niece were sitting outside the show ring, watching our progress on the Sunday afternoon of the show. My other sister — my niece’s Mom — was home with my 2-year-old nephew.

As I guided Quincy through the choreography of showing a dog, I suddenly felt like that high school kid playing field hockey again, being loved and supported by my family. The feeling came over me so suddenly, and with so much love and appreciation for them, it surprised me.

Just this past weekend, both sisters and my niece and nephew visited me at a flyball (think dog relay racing) tournament. Some of my teammates took my niece under their wings, and she got to help race a dog and to participate in a “human flyball” charity competition. She was given a Junior Handler award at the end of the tournament. Our team’s junior handler, who had gotten my niece involved, collected her prize for her and I will send it out this week.

My sisters Katrina and Kirstin, and Kirstin’s children, Samuel and Serena, with two of my dogs.

My spirits were high anyway because it was the first tournament of our flyball season, but to have my family there made it a much richer and more fulfilling experience for me. I may get to see them again in June when we play flyball in their neighborhood. We’ll see.

At some point, I realized how much effort they always put into trying to go to my events when they can, and when the events are in reasonable driving distance for them. But first I had to tell them where I was going to be and when. They were always there. I just needed to reach out my hand and invite them to be part of my life again.

I have loved being in touch with family again, and look forward to seeing them and hearing from them. I cannot get back the last few years of time lost, but I am eager for the next few months. There are dog sports of course, but there already are plans to spend time with my daughters and their spouses and other members of my family.

It’s a miracle really, that I could be so blessed with such loving and persistent family. I see them all as precious treasures in my life again, and pray that I can be on the sidelines for them too.

 

JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.