Our family, like many families, has had some difficult times. I grew up knowing my four aunts, but there were two uncles in the family that I knew nothing about. Sure, there were twitterings and comments but they were a mystery to me.
My older uncle, I knew, had quite a few children and an Irish wife who was the first war bride to arrive in Canada after World War 2. They lived only a mile or so away but we didn't know them or see them. I grew up wishing I had cousins my own age, and always wondered about who they were. Later, as I did the family research and found more questions than answers, I felt even more that part of who I am was missing from my life.
There were moments when we'd catch a glimpse of them, and even a couple of confusing visits - usually on Christmas after a few drinks when my Mom or one of her sisters decided it was time for me to meet them but by and large, I never knew who they were.
My younger uncle was even more intriguing to me. He had left the family fold when I was just 8, but was old enough to remember him. He had a wife and three children. Three children who were my age and again, I always missed them terribly. There were 'sightings' over the years...a random comment to friend of my mothers on a bus from whom would have been my cousin, a quick glimpse on a ferry sometime in the mid-80s. I asked my Mom so many times where they were or if she knew anything. It always made her sad for me to ask, and she would wistfully say she knew nothing. However, I knew it wasn't without issue and there were more than a few dark reasons why he had left.
In 2001, I received an email from R. He was my younger uncle's youngest son and had been looking at a family tree site and found my information. At first, his Dad asked him not to contact me. 'Too much water under the bridge', 'Let sleeping dogs lie', he told his son. But R. thankfully - as I would have done too - didn't listen. When he emailed, he was pensive. I knew our family. He however did not. While I remembered them as an 8 year old girl, he remembered nothing except toddler-like glimpses of a long ago time.
We organized a reunion soon after and the sisters got to meet their little brother. To be in that house that day, to see the look on everyone's face, was a rare privilege and one I won't soon forget. For the next year, we saw each other quite a few times. But then things began to fade again. We both fell back into the old ways. We knew where each other was but we just seemed to take it for granted.
In the summer, I received a call from my Aunt J. Uncle T was sick. They'd found malignant tumours in his colon. It didn't look good at all. I planned to visit, but it was hard for me to get away as they lived in Victoria. When the surgery happened, it turned out better than expected and he was rallying, I let it go. We received email updates though, as he continued with his treatments. The day he turned 65, back in September, he was told the worst was behind him.
Meanwhile, I had regained contact with the family of my elder Uncle. We had begun rebuilding the relationships that should have begun years ago. I had visited my cousins and it was like putting a jig-saw puzzle back into place with a piece that had been missing from the box. When the group of us was together, the bond was so strong and so right that each time it was like my soul had just drank a Red Bull.
However, again, the dark secrets still held power over us and we took things slowly. One night, one of my cousins - the one closest in age and personality to me - gained the courage to tell me what the rift had been about. It was a shocking admission and one I'm not prepared to talk about publicly, but it was like releasing a heavy burden I had no idea I was carrying. Once it was out, we began to truly become a family again.
My cousin M asked me to come to her house for Christmas dinner. But I felt awkward. While she and I were close, and the other female cousins too, I didn't know how I'd feel attending her family dinner with the entire group together. Would I be intruding? It was also a ferry ride away in Victoria. So I declined. I told her I felt she and I needed more time to talk one on one before I met the entire family.
On Thursday, I received a call that broke my heart. It was from my Uncle T's wife. He was not doing well. He had been taken to palliative care and wasn't expected to see Christmas. And he'd asked for me.
So yesterday, I made the trip to Victoria. It was the first time for me to take that trip in over a decade. It meant giving up concert tickets to Bon Jovi and conquering a fear of driving where I didn't know where I was going. But I knew how important it was. My mom and the other sisters are no longer able to travel. So not only was I going for me, I was going for my entire family.
As I walked in the door of his room, his eyes lit up and his smile warmed my heart. We spent 6 hours together. When I saw him, he was strong sprited and fiesty. His humour was infectious and we laughed, and talked without catching a breath all day. Gone was the mysterious man who left the family many years ago, and replaced was a wonderful, genuine, warm-hearted man that I'd always hoped and knew somehow he would be.
There were so many stories. So many things to discuss. So many fences to mend. But as the day progressed, we did it justice. It is a day I will cherish always.
I had decided to visit Cousin M for dinner as well. After declining the dinner, the fates had seen differently and I now knew I was supposed to meet this 'other branch'. As Uncle T began to tire near the end of our visit, he was at peace and was buoyed by the fact that I would be visiting his brother's family. A family he hadn't seen himself since the early 60s.
After leaving, I made my way over to my cousin M's. While the majority of the guests were people I'd never met, I felt as if I'd walked into a home I'd been in all my life.
They knew I'd had an emotional day but met me with just the right mix of empathy and lightheartedness that I soon was smiling and laughing along with them.
I met the rest of the girls, and can't say enough about how much I feel like something has clicked back in place. It is an odd but rewarding feeling to feel reconnected to people you knew you were missing but didn't know why. The drama and the issues of the past are firmly where they need to be - in the past. As we spoke last night, we made a pact to rise above. It only has power if we let it and the strength of this family simply won't allow that. The fact that our bond is so strong even without the shared memories speaks to how important our family connection is.
I was meant to have that day yesterday. To reunite with my Mom's two brothers' families. I had no idea it would come together like it did, but I believe fate had a hand in making it happen. As I held my Cousin M's baby, I knew we had come full circle.
Sadly, my Uncle T passed into a coma a few hours after I left. He still lingers but it won't be long now until he passes into the next world. However, I know he does so in peace. And I know he'll never be too far away from me, or the rest of his family.