Words have a tendency to trip me up. I can get so stuck on a word that it loses it’s meaning altogether. I'm not talking about the big, unknown definitions of words that are new to me. There are certain everyday, common words that I mull over, trying to find my own, personal understanding of their meaning. What does that word really mean and how is it applied to my experience? What else can it mean, perhaps to someone else, or a from a different perspective?
Words like trust, shame, guilt and battle. Those rattled off pretty darn quickly there!
That’s a huge six letter word. Family. There are so many levels of understanding, definition and interpretation of the word ‘family’. So much springs to mind. I'm sure it has a very personal meaning to each of us, based on our own upbringing and experiences.
My parent's divorced when I was about three or four years old. I know that’s not uncommon. That my stepfather is black, and married my mother, a single parent with four children in 1969, wasn’t so common. To this day, he treats my mother like a queen, and they are each other’s best friend, still.
My father remarried as well. Three more times. I’ve had two additional families with stepbrothers and stepsisters that all ended by divorce, and/or distance. We left one family behind and moved to Scotland. Then we left another behind in Scotland when we returned to Canada.
I never met my father’s fourth family until after he passed away. He had been married to his fourth wife for 30 years. “Those were the happiest years of my life,” he told me, shortly after his wife had passed away.
At the internment of my father's ashes, I met this fourth family of his, and I could all too easily see how he would have been happy. They accepted me and welcomed me without any gulf, or judgment. Their hearts and arms were open wide. I’ve never heard so many times, albeit indirectly, how much I resemble my father. “Wow he really looks like Reg, doesn’t he!?” was the general consensus.
Then there are our ‘chosen’ families. Those from school, or work, or socially. The friends we meet that stick around, and in time become a part of our own life. Our selected and extended families, branching out, over time. It’s commonplace to have circles of chosen-family-friend’s that might not even meet one another. Some family-friends may never overlap, yet know all about each other. Then there are those that collide and morph into a bigger family group.
I know a lot of people, sure. I am blessed with lots of friends. Good fortune has brought what I consider to be, an abundance of great friends. I also have a very small, intimate group of select friends, that I carry with me daily. We all do. Those that we go to, or think about when things happened that we want to share. Those that are here for the good, the bad, and to tell you when things are ugly.
Those friends that hear our deepest thoughts, concerns, hopes and secrets. Those that get to hear the madness of my processes and inner turmoils, as I process through every shred of everything. A family. My chosen family.
When my friend Tom, who I met back on Day Ten of TSP2014, went into hospital at the end of June, my first reaction was to be his family. We had such a special friendship and connection, it wasn’t even really a consideration for me.
Tom had, over the two-and-a-half years I knew him, mentioned his brother, his sister-in-law and his two cousins. He also told me of an older brother who had died when he was a young man. Both of his parents had passed away. I thought Tom had no one else. By choice, and without question, I would be his family.
During the first three weeks in hospital, a group of people emerged, and to my amazement, a few others had the same impression I had. That Tom made each of us feel so special, and considered him family, doesn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is how many people he had impacted in this way. We each thought we were his closest friend.
Tom’s families, whether by birth or by selection, all gathered. We became another family. In Tom’s death, we are connected by virtue of knowing Tom. We cared for, loved and supported Tom through his final transition in this life. We soon came to comfort each other, as well.
After Tom died, we had a Celebration of Life, in honour of Tom. He didn’t want a funeral and had made that clear. A gathering, whatever it might be called, after the passing of a friend or family member, isn’t really for the person who died. I think it’s for those of us left here in this lifetime. To seek comfort in our commonality. To share sentiments and our expressions of love and care. To celebrate our experiences with Tom, share his stories, his quirks, his humour and his friendship.
The coffeeshop that Tom and I frequented, insisted on buying us all our beverages. I had a mocha, Tom’s favourite. Tom's niece brought tasty treats for us to share. Tom’s sister-in-law, and now dear friend of mine, brought a framed photo of Tom, It was a picture I had taken of him sometime last year. His ever-present Tilly hat even made an appearance!
It was such a warm, connected and comforting group of Tom’s ‘family’. Those of us who shared in loving and knowing Tom. We each mourn his passing, in our own way. There was comfort, in our mutual sadness. There was lots of laughter and cheer, as well as tears and hugs. It was a good day for hugs. So many were had.
This photo is from that day, back in August. Tom’s Celebration of Life. If you didn’t know the story, it wouldn’t be hard to look at this picture, and, you might quite easily guess it’s a family gathering of some sort. You’d be correct. This is a family. We shared our love, respect, admiration, and gratitude for Tom. We supported and cared for each other. Tom brought us together.
This is a family. One of my families. By choice, and by nature. Random and select. Family; a gift, no matter the starting point. This group, this family gathered together, are here in part, because I said hello to a stranger. We became friends and now, we are a family. #notastranger