Such a loaded title.
Today has been a day of reflection when it comes to family. My paternal grandmother passed away 16 years ago today. Her loss is still felt today and funny as it is it seems to be felt more with each year. She raised 7 children. Saw the birth of all 17 of her grandchildren and countless great-grandkids - the last one she was alive to see being my eldest son Nathan, born 17 months before her passing.
She left an indelible mark on all of us.
I carry her second name as my own, Elizabeth - a reminder of our English history. I have also inherited her love of endless cups of tea, no matter how hot it is outside. I saw first hand how much love my Dad had for his Mother and I have tried to raise my sons in the hopes that I will share the same bond with them in my later years.
Yet what family is has changed....
Between my parents families I have a total of 27 cousins ranging in age from around 52 to 24.
My immediate family is small with just my sister and I, and each of us only having 2 children. However 6 years ago today they moved to Australia so the family is separated by an ocean and time. They celebrate birthdays, Christmas, New Years before we do... you think it doesn't make a difference but in small little ways it does. You do feel out of touch with their world. I know technology has made is easier to keep in contact but it doesn't make up for real face to face time. It never will.
When it comes to the rest of the family I've never really been a participant... choice or circumstance? I would say choice and from a young age. My paternal Gran would often tell me I was the cheekiest and most stubborn of her grandchildren. With good reason.
My dad was raised English but all 6 his siblings married Afrikaans and settled in various parts of what was then the Transvaal. My mom is english speaking and although I was born in Pretoria my dad was transferred back to Durban when I was 1 and my parents made the decision to raise my sister and I as English speaking. Still known as The Last Outpost and 99.9999% English - if you hear Afrikaans in this town you know the holidaymakers have invaded. My sister was always happy to speak the Taal when visiting family but I of course stuck to my guns and even if spoken to in Afrikaans would reply in English... which of course made me so popular with family (my Afrikaans skills are perfectly adequate I just don't speak it).
Growing up 550km away from relatives you only see once a year, a language/cultural barrier and age difference means I haven't particularly worried about keeping up family ties. For me it's the same scenario as my school reunion.. I generally see cousins only at funerals (not even weddings) - I don't feel I need a window into their everyday world. The same dynamic of language and distance doesn't apply on my moms side, although there is a spread of ages. Yet there too I have no active desire to keep up with family relations. Funerals again being the 'catch up' point. I know a lot of my cousins have bonded and see a lot of each other and I'm happy for them and comfortable in the knowledge that it isn't for me.
While I live my life differently here in my little spot in the Last Outpost - according to my own rules I know my Gran would still be proud of me, what I have achieved and overcome. I know she would understand my different needs. While we may not all gather together anymore her memory lives through all of us and we are passing it on to our children and that will continue for years to come.
Family is what is in your heart. The memories you cherish. The love you carry forward.