When I spoke to my mother last week (I called her, she never calls me), she told me that her cousin Esther had died. She was very, very upset about this. I am 50, I have never, ever met Esther (or her children), despite the fact that she only lived about 20 miles from my mother. She and my mother used to talk on the phone, without fail, every Friday. Yet despite the relatively short distance, they hadn't met up for at least 50 years.
This got me thinking. My mother has two other cousins, Christina, who lives in the next town, whom she also speaks to every week. She last saw Christina when I was 15 (I went with her). She won't go and visit her, although it is just a short train ride. But they speak every week. It would be easier for my Mum to visit Christina than vice versa, because Christina is disabled. I've offered to take my Mum to see her, but she always comes up with some excuse. They used to see a lot of each other when they were younger and Christina's daughter is the same age as me, but I've only met her a couple of times.
She also has a cousin who lives in Switzerland. Same thing. My mother has the means and ability to go and visit, and has never done so (she wouldn't go without my father, he didn't want to go, said she should go on her own). She last saw Joan over 30 years ago - Joan doesn't visit UK any more because her parents and brother are dead and sees no point. Joan still would love my mother to visit her, but she won't, but they still speak on the phone every week.
She has one brother left of her siblings, hasn't seen him for three years, yet he lives about half an hour away on the train. He has a holiday home, and drives virtually past the end of her road to get there. He never calls in. They speak on the phone several times a week, yet seemingly have no urge to see each other.
It's not that weird. My mum, and my dad for that matter, have friends who they spend hours talking to by phone but have no need to meet up in person with. Some people have more open conversations by phone than in person. My mother speaks with her twin twice a week for about 2 hours yet they only meet every 5 years or so. When they do meet and are saying goodbye again, probably for another 5 years, it's a casual "give you a call Sunday". Some people don't need to meet in person.
It's probably a bit like Facebook for older people. I chat all the time to maybe half a dozen people frequently on Facebook. We laugh at each other's posts, tease and make jokes, yet I have no desire to see them, even when I'm in the same town. I dont think it's that strange. It's lovely that they still keep in contact after all this time.
Weekly phone calls are normal for the older generation. My mother still talks for ages on the phone with some of her friends, just like she did in the '70s . My dad (aged 80) is more with it and uses Facebook. They also catch up with people at the weddings and funerals over the years. Maybe that's enough.
I think it's odd, but not unusual. My dad is like this with his three siblings. He rarely visited them (and they never visited us), but they would speak on the phone. I think he didn't want to go alone and my mother didn't want to go. My parents are socially awkward introverts though. They never used to have friends over to dinner. Not once in my entire life.
My nan and her many siblings/cousins were like this too. The thing is, she didn't really like any of them and didn't want to mix with them, but she was nosey and enjoyed gossip (I truly love my dear nan, god rest her soul - but she really was a nosey bugger and prolific gossiper!). She hated not knowing everything about everybody in the family, and then loved gossiping about it all to all the other family members she didn't ever visit.
It does seem a bit weird to me but I guess the main point is that she has maintained a strong relationship with them, however they communicate. So many people just become totally cut off from family and friends.