The Blessing of (Extended) Family

For many of us, June is an event-filled month. Graduations, weddings, Father’s Day, and stepping-into-summer celebrations abound. This month has already been a packed one for my husband and me. Joined by many of our children, we attended the wedding of our niece as we celebrated the adding of a new home to our family tree. Sadly, a few days later, we participated in escorting a dear friend and cousin on the final steps of his earthly sojourn.

Surrounded as we were by extended family, I felt sorry for those who won’t have the same blessing. Our niece, the bride, had aunts, uncles and cousins fly in from Israel, Toronto, New York, Maryland and Florida to share in her joy. Along with her parents, siblings and her own nieces and nephews, we were a sizable group.

Of course, she had close friends there as well, but one thing I have learned over the years is how shockingly easy it is for friendships to dilute as we change age and location. Family members and relationships can certainly be challenging. Nonetheless, the glue of blood stretches over even vast gulfs.

We don’t know if our beloved cousin was a second or third cousin twice removed or some other configuration. Our families had been lost to each other at some time in the late 1800s, when distance made communication more difficult than it is now. But, we found each other (plus the added gift of his wonderful wife) about thirty years ago and that enriched all our lives. We owe much thanks to the man and woman who sired the large family from which both branches of our family sprung.

Extended families have shrunk. Many today have fewer aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, and nephews and nieces than did the generations before them. With an increasing number of people opting not to marry, not only are there fewer spouses, but that also means fewer in-laws. How do you know how much you will miss something you never had?

We human beings have all sorts of deficiencies. In a successful society, we fill the lacks of others and they compensate for our lacks. This allows us all to live immeasurably better lives than we would if we were on our own. Not getting married and not having children doesn’t leave only the gap of that specific missing spouse or descendant. We lose the chance to connect to many others who would have entered our lives through those individuals. Decades ago we embarked, with ruinous results, on the experiment of insisting that an individual was just as good as a couple for bringing a child into this world. We dictated that marriage was a disposable social construct. We are increasingly adding a new and doomed twist of not having children at all. Built as we are for connection, we humans are doggedly marching forward to live our lives alone. May we be granted the wisdom to change course while there is still time to do so.


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