First, as background, I have three siblings, shown here with my father in 1999.
We grew up in the turbulent 60's and the chemically corrupt 70's yet we all managed to be fairly normal, and I think part of the reason why is my extended family. On my Dad's side, I have 10 uncles, 2 aunts, 30 something cousins and God only knows how many others. Family reunions take on the flavor of a convention. Every year as we grew up, on holidays we trooped to grandma's and had a ball. The most striking thing in my memories was the amount of pure fun these people all had, and I am here to testify, it was fun indeed. The games, the good natured joking and the general love was inspirational, and I believe, in retrospect, it was also responsible for a lot of my attitudes about relationships and family in general. The most recent gathering was my cousin Kris's wedding in Seattle, where 7 of the aunts and uncles as well as a handful of cousins all gathered to send Kris off in style. The brides section was definitely well represented.
So the reason this is important to me, is two events that happened these last few weeks.
First, My friend Miles lost his Mom to cancer a few days ago. The pain he shared in his email reminded me that life takes away the ones we love when we least expect. I am no stranger to loss I suppose. Sally, my step mom, died in 1999 after a long bout with cancer, Nancy lost her parents last year within 4 months of each other, and my Mom is currently battling that bastard cancer as well, so it is a grim life sometimes. Yet despite this, Miles also shared how some level of triumph came in the end, as a part of his family was reconciled...With the tragedy of his mothers passing, some good will still come...And while that is a long way short of making anyone feel better, at least there is some forward looking hope.
On a side note, nothing burns me more then intra-family dysfunction, including my own bickering with my brother, my step sister who disappeared after her moms death 6 years ago and hasn't been seen since, and Nancy even has a sibling she isn't speaking much to since her parents death....which leads me to the second event.
Unlike my friend's event, in Nancy's case, her parents passing left more questions then resolutions, because she has had almost no knowledge of her extended family. Her family has grown up with levels of dysfunction I cannot fathom. It seems many years ago, a few generations back a couple of siblings had a falling out, and suddenly the family is split in two (literally, one faction actually changed their names). So when I recall my fun at grandma's with my sibling, now I also recall my wife never had that luxury. She never met most of her parents siblings, never knew most of her extended family at all.....Till now.
While researching her family for a social studies project for one of the kids, we found a name of a somewhat distant cousin of her dad, but he was on the other side of *the rift*, so we weren't sure of the reception. It was, to our surprise, incredibly positive, for her cousin had embarked on a search of the family and was determined to discover some of the people on the other side. Since then she has received a lot of info on the people, and even spoken to an aunt she had not heard from since her childhood.
Finally after all these years she can revel in being a part of a larger family, one that is receptive to getting to know her and one she has a hunger to know as well. Its a fun time for her, and watching her pore over the charts and stories is heartwarming.
I guess we never realize what we have till its gone, or in this case till we see someone who never had it. In a way its a tragedy, because one can not help but sorrow for all the time lost, all the opportunities wasted. At the same time, like in Miles's case, hope can live on, and it lives in us.
With that in mind, I am personally very thankful for the incredible family I have been given, and I hope I never take them for granted. I also plan to spend more time asking questions, finding out who is doing what and making sure, time and distance don't undo years of family closeness.
Likewise, I hope Nancy discovers similar wonders as she gets to know more of her family, and they her.
Two parting quotes:
The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people - no mere father and mother - as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born.
~Pearl S. Buck
Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.