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.) ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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 ๐Ÿ˜ฆ .)ย  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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10 Responses to “Is family always family?”

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i can’t tell your family one apart from the other. i only know you have a sister and that your aunt passed away recently. the rest was just a knotty tangle of words to me! ๐Ÿ˜›

i’m not close to my immediate nor my extended one. by close, i’m referring to the emotional kind. proximity-wise, i live with my parents, so i know what’s pretty much going on in their lives. the others, i only see during chinese new year or a family dinner to celebrate an elderly relative’s birthday, like a recent one of my granduncle’s (technically it’s called greatuncle. why??) 92nd or 93rd birthday.

definitely emotionally closer to my friends! distance doesn’t even matter in some cases, like you. ๐Ÿ™‚

i’m sure aunt elisabeth won’t hold it against you!

My family on my mom’s side used to get together on Thanksgiving and Christmas while my Grandma was alive. Once she died the get-togethers only lasted a few more times before everyone made it seem like a hassle. I guess things just drifted further from there. For me, there are years between seeing my aunts and uncles, even my first cousins, which are about my age and have kids that I’ve never even seen.

It almost seems like it’s the parents and grandparents that are sort of the glue that keep the others in touch.

I think they should have let you know about your Aunt. I mean I’m sure giving someone a call out of nowhere with bad news may seem like a bad idea, but it seems like the right thing to do to me.

BTW, the cousin chart has always been confusing to me. Couldn’t they have made it a little more simple than “once removed” etc.? lol If someone was to say something about a 2nd cousin twice removed, I’d have to sit and draw it out in my head to figure that out.

Ah, family! I won’t even get started. I could never say it in my blog, but we have had a few doozies!

I am sorry about your Aunts passing, Muse.
You would think someone would have told you. Maybe choose one and ask them to be the one who keeps you informed about things.

I think it’s hard, too, when we don’t have children of our own. There are no young ones that call to ask for visits with their cousins or who keep in touch. Once my siblings children got into their late teens time spent with them grew less. I used to have them over all the time. Even summers. But now they have a life of their own.

It is the young ones and the old ones that seem to be the glue. I haven’t been to my (Dad’s side)family reunion since my Grandparents died. Even though they are a huge family and are great people. I just didn’t feel like going.

Hey, I understand your pain about not being told about your aunt. Maybe taht wasn’t by choice, it just happened. Why don’t you keep in touch with your fav cousin and ask her to tell you going-ons in the family. I am sure Aunt Elisabeth knows you would have been at her funeral and blesses you from above.

WHat does ‘once removed’ mean in your genealogy chart?

Thank you so much, Muse, for leaving a comment on my blog. It felt good to read. It’s interesting that my “click” to you took me to this entry. I am tangled up in old family drama’s once again and it’s been a trying time. Good to know you ‘get it’. Warm Regards to you in this new year.

Sorry about your Aunt Elisabeth. I find it pretty strange that nobody told you about the funeral. Perhaps that’s a sign that you should maybe talk to your family a little more often.

I never realised that cousins were so confusing. So your second cousin is both your great aunt/uncle’s great grandchild and your great great aunt/uncle’s grandchild?

Ah – the family!

What is that saying, “You can choose your friends but cannot choose you family”?

Make perfect sense to me.

But, on the other hand we have to think that even family are individuals who have different personalities etc. I think the longest time that elapsed between the death of a family member and finding out was 2 years.

I had a dubious look forces upon me when asking a cousin, who I hadn’t seen for about 15 years, how their dad was. That was a brief, and uncomfortable meeting in a local supermarket cigarette stand queue. I hadn’t seen them since before I left England – and probably won’t when we return for holidays.

I am the second to youngest in a family of 8 siblings – I, too, have no parents any more – no mum since ’72 and no dad since ’89. Oh how time flies.

Sorry for your loss, Muse.

My cousins and I were close as kids but we’re all older now and I can’t really be bothered. I’m really not much of a family person, but then I do have my own family now. I would love to spend a christmas without the extended family. That would be great, unfortunately, they don’t share my sentiments.

Thanks, wonderful commenters, for your support on this issue. I’ve taken longer than usual to respond, as I was away/busy/procrastinating on a big project. I’ve been appreciating you all during, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

You’re right, sulz, this post is probably one of my more obscure… ๐Ÿ˜• I agree with you, I’m sure Aunt Elisabeth is cool. ๐Ÿ˜Ž I was sort of feeling sorry for myself, but, one reaps what one sows, I suppose. I’m thinking of picking a time of year that is not so busy (like, not December) to communicate with my family; perhaps twice a year for an update. That way, I might—or might not—get updates from them, but if someone has died or otherwise done something particularly notable, perhaps that will encourage at least one of them to tell me! Yeah, these definitions of relatives are confusing! I don’t know…your great or grand-uncle is your uncle or aunt’s father, right? So why grandparent but great-uncle? ๐Ÿ˜• Aw, thanks! You are far away in distance, but not from my heart. ๐Ÿ˜€

So, you don’t see your family all the time either, Shane? It seems that in earlier times, when we didn’t move around as much, people stayed closer to their families, even if they didn’t like them. They were just there. Now, with distance and time issues, we have to pick and choose who we spend our time with, which I think is, on the whole, a good thing. I agree with you about the parents and grandparents holding things together. After all, when we were children (you and your cousins, and me and mine) there were less people in the family. Once all the children grow up, and many have children of their own, there are just so many more people to keep track of, so the gatherings seems to shift and consolidate over time. Well, I think they should have let me know about my Aunt, too. After all, a death is pretty important news. I’m just not sure if they each thought someone else would tell me, or if they forgot about me altogether! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Yeah, all that “removed” stuff about the cousins! I would just have to memorize it all, if I was really called upon to explain it. Although, it seems I’m rather “removed” from my cousins, anyway! ๐Ÿ˜›

Hi, BD. You have a point about not having children. It seems when the family members have small children they make an effort to keep in touch; or, sometimes the opposite. Sometimes they become so busy with their new families that the “fringe” relatives, like us, get left behind. It’s telling that you are not interested in the big family reunions with your father’s family. I think it’s a good thing we feel more emotionally able to choose whether to participate than we did in times past. I like your idea about choosing one cousin to keep me informed, but, they don’t always even keep in touch with each other. I think I will do what I mentioned in my reply to sulz, just send out a couple of emails a year; they all do have email now. I could just say “and if anything major has happened recently, please let me know!” ๐Ÿ™‚

Thank you, Poonam. It did seem strange to me at the time. I will be better about staying in touch in the future. It’s just finding a balance between how much contact I actually want, and how much I want to keep to myself…As for the genealogy chart, I’m confused. I found this chart online, but, wow! ๐Ÿ˜‰

You are welcome, yogini, and thank you for your wishes as well. Oh, yes, family drama. I hope the activities and communication you are experiencing resolve themselves in a positive way. It is always good to check in with you; I appreciate your insight and friendship. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thank you B0bby, I appreciate that. You are probably right. If I don’t make an effort to stay in touch, I don’t really have the right to complain. I just got discouraged, because when I would email them, they mostly didn’t respond in any way. Oh well, I shall find a balance, I declare! ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, cousins ARE confusing…great-who-what? Oh, yes. When I look at it—what YOU said! ๐Ÿ˜€

I AM glad that we get to choose, Will! I used to think my family was “normal”; that other families are like mine. When I got older, I found out how many different kinds of personalities and relationships there are! Wow, two years to find out about a death! Mine was only a few months. That must have been a very strange and awkward moment for you. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It is sad to lose parents when young, I know. There’s all kinds of experiences with that, too. I know an older lady whose mother is 96! She’s been around just forever. And although her daughter handles it well, she sometimes indicates it might be time to, um, grow up and be on her own, at the age of 71! ๐Ÿ˜›

Hello, pinnythewu! Thank you very much for stopping by! Sometimes the extended family holiday gatherings are less than wonderful, aren’t they? It sounds as if you’d rather have a smaller gathering with those you really care about. I’m always amazed how long people are willing to repeat holiday dramas, just out of habit or some feeling of obligation! But then, if you are like me, you don’t want to be the only party-pooper. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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