My mother’s mother passed away recently and during the time of the funeral, so many members of her side of the family gathered together. I met some first and second cousins for the first time and saw many others, including aunts and uncles, for the first time in ages.
It was an incredibly bittersweet experience for me. While it was such an awesome feeling to meet and reconnect, I could not help but think of how little I knew of so many people whose blood I shared.
I could not help but think about the reason we were even gathered in the first place. I was hugely unsettled by the reality that it had taken such a sad occasion to bring us together, but I took comfort in the gift that my grandmother’s passing had left to us. I realized she gave us an opportunity to reunite, bridge disconnections and to get to know one another as family.
Families are disconnected for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is the structure of our families. Sometimes it is distance and getting caught up in our own lives. Sometimes it is age-old grudges, secrets or some other feud.
It is not merely about sharing the same space; our families can be disconnected while being together. Disconnection is about our relationships to one another. How do we “know” one another?
Family is the word we use to describe those closest to us, but many times these are folks not biologically related to us. How can this be? Well, because biology determines relationship to, not relationship with. Family titles offer categories that give us a way of organizing kin ties, but they do not, themselves alone, tell us anything about our relationship with those kin ties. Therefore family titles are only as meaningful as the breadth and depth of our connection with one another.
I found myself interested in the ways in which I connected with members of my family beyond the stuff that runs through our veins. This is often the case also for those with estranged biological parents or siblings or those who have maybe never had their parents or siblings in their lives.
You want to know their hopes and dreams and the things that make them afraid at times.
You want to know some of the mistakes they’ve made in life and how they overcame them.
You are interested in the first time they fell in love and you want to know what matters to them in the world and why. What did they want to be when they were little? What was a defining moment in their lives? Do they have any regrets about decisions they’ve made?
You want to know who or what inspires them and the things they think about when they are all alone. You want to know about their quirkiness and the things that they are most proud of.
You want to know who they are because it can help you to better understand yourself. We trust that beyond the walls that seem to distance us, are some of the same experiences, same fears and same hopes and dreams.
Cultivate a relationship with those you love. It is not enough just to be related to them. Be encouraged.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.