Family dynamics are odd. I grew up thinking that I had a very typical, North American family – two parents, three siblings, a dog and a couple of cats. My parents weren’t divorced and I didn’t grow up with step-siblings. My dad worked and my mom stayed at home for at least part of my growing-up years. Yep, pretty typical family.
And then every once in a while I would remember — oh right! — that my dad had been married before and had two kids from that marriage. I knew them, but they lived elsewhere and were older than we were so they didn’t feel like part of my family in the same way. At least when I was a teenager.
Sometime in the years since, they have become more a part of my family. I attribute this to a number of things – Facebook, for one. For a while now, I’ve been Facebook friends with my half-brother and sister’s families. Knock Facebook all you like, but it does a damn good job at helping people keep in touch.
But we’ve also grown older — us, them, their kids — and we’ve done more of the things families do. We’ve visited more often. We’ve called the same person “dad.” We’ve attended weddings and welcomed babies and shared vacation stories.
And recently we mourned the loss of one of our own.
There’s nothing quite like a death in the family to bring about a sense of unified “we.” Especially when that death is sudden and unexpected and happens to one of the younger members of the clan.
At the end of March, my nephew (who was 18) had a horrific car accident and died not long after. My family (my immediate, nuclear one, that is) does nothing better than rally. We all generally live our lives, keeping in touch pretty well but not daily (or weekly). And yet when something happens, everything else gets dropped and it’s all family.
That’s what happened after Michael’s accident, and on a grand scale because my half-sister and her family live in Australia. It’s hard to rally when there’s a 24-hour trip between those in crisis and the rest of us. But we figured it out. Between a few of us we got my dad down there as soon as we could so he could be with them. He got there (along with his ex-wife and my half-brother) in time for my sister and her husband to remove life support and, while horrific, I know he’s glad he was able to be there. It was just so, so important.
We worked out a second wave, and sent my brother’s wife down with my youngest sister. They were two more who needed to be there – my sister-in-law to be with my brother and the rest of the family, and my sister to make sure she was okay on the long trip after some health issues and to be the absolute rock she always is in situations like this. If you need someone to clean and cook and make sure people eat, she’s your gal.
The rest of us stayed here and agonized. In the end, we didn’t go – for reasons too numerous to mention. But we were here on the other end of text messages and phone calls and emails and we sent every hope, prayer and message of love we could to those on the other side of the world.
Because it doesn’t matter what your tree looks like – that’s what families do. And I was once again so very, very grateful for mine.