And I've been thinking what an odd phenomenon the whole concept of family is. And about what it means to me. What it literally means... as in how I would even begin to define that word.
You see, I come from the original blended family. Back in the day, there were no other kids I knew whose mother had a different surname, who had a step-brother, and a grandmother who wasn't really their grandmother, or cousins who weren't actually cousins. I just knew who I knew, and loved who I loved. So what did blood or surname really matter, anyway?
I was reminded of this idea, of the meaning of family, at the reception following my brother's funeral. I came up behind two cousins, tall, handsome men in their fifties, sons of my mother's brothers. I squeezed between them, put my arms around their waists, and said, "How did I ever get two such handsome cousins?" And one looked at the other and chuckled, "We're adopted." And so they were. Both of them, by two of Mum's brothers, making them Sullivan cousins to me, and to each other. One of them, my cousin Mark, gave Terry's eulogy, pointing out that Terry was effectively his older brother, this eldest male cousin whom he'd always admired. So, cousin, brother... does the title really matter?
|My cousin Mark and me|
|The Burpee girls together again.|
Hubby and I laughed on the way home to Ottawa a few days later as I tried to explain to him who was who at the funeral. He said he'd tried to keep up with me for a while at the reception, but I leapt from one conversation to another, and he finally gave up and decamped to the porch to sit in a comfortable rocking chair and wait for me to wind down. When I said I wanted to write a blog post about family, he said I should tell you the story of my "cousin, but not really."
You see, my mother was widowed very young when my brother Terry and my two sisters were small. Years later she married my father and they had me. But we always remained close to her first husband's family. And so I grew up with an extra grandmother, which didn't dawn on me until I was about eight or nine, and I asked my mum how come I was so lucky as to have three grandmothers. And all those extra cousins, who, it transpired, weren't actually my cousins by blood. One summer when I was in university, Mum and I went to stay for the weekend with Nana, and I went out for the evening with my "cousin" Robert who is the same age as me. He stopped to pick up a friend of his, and introduced me as his "cousin, but not really." We laughed as I explained. Then when I asked this other boy what his last name was, and he said Sullivan, well, the penny dropped. "Who's your father, and grandfather?" I asked. He told me, and then chortled, "I suppose you're going to tell me that I'm your cousin, but not really." "No-oo," I said, amazed, "I think you really are my cousin." Ha. And so he was. His father was my mother's first cousin, and growing up many miles apart we'd never met. I love that story.
But that's probably way too many cousins for you. A cousin too far, you might say. So I'll stop.
I'm not sure what I wanted to say in this post. I'm certainly not going to try to define what the word family means. But I do know that, to me, it doesn't have much of anything to do with birth certificates, and blood, and who was married to whom. Don't get me wrong, I love to research my family background, and see where my ancestors came from and when. I love family stories, which you'll already know if you've been reading my blog for a while.
But how to explain family ties? Well, we know who we know, and we love who we love. I guess. I do know that seeing all these people I know, and knew, and love, and loved way back when has helped me deal with the loss of my brother.
That's for sure.