Archive for January 14th, 2009

Is family always family?

Posted on January 14, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Health, Philosophy |

I’m relieved and disturbed at the same time. I have friends (well, mostly old friends of my mother’s) who tell me that if I’m not careful, I’ll end up an eccentric loner with 8 cats and no one to look out for me. I’ve had others who are just curious, and some who understand.

I am a person who has neither children nor parents. (I did have parents at one point—I did not spring fully formed from a turnip, but sometimes I wonder.) 😉 I do have one sister, my only remaining “immediate” family member. She and I are comfortable about our level of communication, and I’m also close to her daughter, my niece.

I’m writing here about the “other” family members: cousins and second cousins. I was in a strange position in my family. My father was the youngest of nine children, (!) seven of whom lived to grow up. Of these, five emigrated to the United States, and two stayed in Germany. My mother only had one sibling, her sister who died young, and she had two children, my cousin who lived with us for some years after her mother died, and who died young, herself (!) and her older brother who has lived far away for quite a while.

So, most of the family I knew growing up were from my father’s side. We had large family gatherings at my father’s sister’s house. She was the only one of them who did not have her own children, but welcomed all of us, always. My cousins, two of whom are still living in the US, each had three children, and five of the six of them all have multiple children, too. You see, in addition to being the youngest of nine, my father didn’t have his own, first and only bio-child (me) until he was 46! He was a lot younger than most of his siblings, and had procreated late, so that left me with cousins much closer to my parents’ ages and 2nd cousins closer to mine. (I—and the rest of my family—had always referred to the children of 1st cousins as 2nd cousins, but this chart lets us know we were wrong 😦 .)  cousinchart1

My father died some time ago, at a relatively young age, and my mother a few years ago. I liked having a big family when I was age 0-17ish. I enjoyed the family gatherings, and the cousins (1st & 2nd) were close.

But then, as it happens, we all grew up. For a long time, my mother kept the connections strong (my father’s family loved her) and I would attend weddings and funerals, and occasionally occasions which were just get-togethers. What has happened since is, everyone from my father’s generation is now deceased; all of my 2nd cousins are married, now; most have children, and my 1st cousins are therefore heads of their own dynasties as grandfathers.

My 2nd cousins have enough trouble keeping up with their own brothers and sisters without having to keep track of their wayward cousin (me) in another state. The most recent funeral, that of my Aunt, was only known to me when I spontaneously emailed one of my favorite cousins, and she told me after the fact. Her father did not tell me. My other 1st cousin did not let me know. I didn’t blame the cousin I emailed, because she’d thought it was her father’s job to tell the family such things. (I wonder if she asked about me, though.) I might have traveled to California to attend the funeral if I’d known. After all, my Aunt was the last remaining sibling of my father’s and I’d spent years running all over her house. But, even if not, I’d like to have had the chance to at least acknowledge the death.

I am not accusing my family of anything, here. I firmly believe that I am out-of-touch by my own design. I do not consciously try to avoid or ignore my family, but neither do I make an effort to keep in frequent touch. I’d done an annual holiday-season letter, or email, for several years, but found I didn’t get much in the way of reply.

This past season, I received a holiday card from a 2nd cousin who’d never sent me one before in his life! I think the “sporadic trait” is genetically bred in my family, if this is any indication. I’ll go for years without hearing from someone, and then they’ll suddenly appear out of the woodwork for one brief moment. I’m like that too.


On the whole, I don’t mind this at all. Since I don’t have much “immediate” family, it does not bother me to live far away from the “less immediate”. I’m pretty much an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of person. I’m sure that if I didn’t keep going to club meetings and chorus rehearsals I wouldn’t have many friends, but since we do those activities together, and enjoy each other, it stimulates us to get together for lunch and other activities too.

I’m perfectly content to live this way. I don’t expect others to “take care” of me, and I actually have plans for my own care if I get too old/ill/wacky to take care of myself.

…It’s just that…they could have TOLD me when Aunt Elisabeth died, couldn’t they?

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