On Death, Strange Parallels, and the Marrying of Families

I’ve always described my parents as traditional or old-fashioned in outlook, particularly when it came to matters of courting (what the hell, I’ll follow suit in terminology). After my first (super toxic) serious relationship (which I completely hid from my parents for three years, knowing the disapproval was guaranteed), I found it rather frustrating that my parents marked my next (way more healthy) serious relationship down for matters that were largely out of his control (his parents were divorced, the family was somewhat fragmented and liked to drink a lot, etc.). When Jon and I started dating, I had mixed feelings about their blissful approval. Not only did they like Jon as a person, but they liked that he was smart and accomplished (salutatorian of his high school class even), and just as importantly to them, they adored his parents, who were still married, deeply connected to their parents, and even “people of God” (both are ordained ministers). I used to think all of this was ridiculous. Then somewhere along the line, I started to see their perspective; that a marriage isn’t just about a marrying of two people, it’s a marrying of families. This concept became clearer to me in different moments, such as when I heard the elation in my parents’ voices when they got together with Jon’s parents without us present. Or when Jon’s parents came to my father’s funeral and stood by my family as we knelt graveside, sobbing and throwing roses on my dad’s casket. Or in countless small and large moments during which I have experienced laughter, kindness, and generosity with Jon’s extended family.

On Saturday, Jon and I went to the funeral of the father of our dear friend Michael and I was moved on several levels. First, I love Michael and his wife Anne immensely; they’re the kind of friends who I wish lived next door yet they currently live on the other side of the world. Second, as someone who hasn’t yet found inspiration in the ritual of church, I felt that the priest’s remembrance of Michael’s father was incredibly moving, humorous, and down to earth. Third, I couldn’t help but be a little overwhelmed by the parallels in circumstance; my father and Michael’s father experienced a similar downward trajectory in health, were tended to by devoted and mindboggling-ly optimistic women, had many children, and died at the same age. Despite being quieted in their late years by their illnesses, both remained strong, unifying roots for their respective families.

And finally, I was moved by the cohesiveness of Anne and Michael’s families. Though complex and multidimensional and fragmented in places like many families, the presence of all of these people made clear how devoted and unified they are. So much so that it occurred to me that I often don’t even think of the various family members as belonging to one side or another. Seeing them together in that moment added a data point in favor of my parent’s perspective about marriage and families.

On a related note, early this morning my uncle – my dad’s brother – died. I was glad I had a chance to see him last week and also catch up with my cousins. And once again, I was struck by the parallels – the round the clock vigils, the weary but spirited demeanor of my cousins and aunt, the hospital room (which, strangely enough, was the same hospital room my dad resided in), and the amazing way the family -- and their families by marriage -- rallied on my uncle’s behalf.

There will be another funeral to attend soon, but these thoughts are the ones that bring me peace and help me remember the joy; not only the joy of the individual, but of all the people that one person has the power to touch and unify.