“We’ll be down in San Diego on the 30th of March til the 2nd of April.”
This was a portion of a Facebook message I received from my second cousin Erin back in February. She is the daughter of my cousin Bettye Sue, who is the daughter of my mother’s sister Berniece.
Although I knew Erin as a small child many years ago, we have only recently known each other as adults on Facebook. We have spoken on the phone once, a few days before my Aunt Berniece (Erin’s grandmother) succumbed to an illness in November of 2013.
It’s always a little tricky meeting up with someone after so much time has passed; in spite of perusing someone’s Facebook page, you truly never know how you’re going to hold up in person. Aside from having family in common, will we share any common interests? Will she and her boyfriend like the restaurant I chose?
Thinking back, the last time I saw Erin in person was 1983-84, when I was living in San Jose. My mom and her husband Pete had come down to our hometown of Antioch, CA, from their place in rural Oregon, to visit her sister Berniece and some of her immediate family.
I brought my then-boyfriend Brent, and we all sat at a large table at Bettye Sue’s house and talked and laughed. My little brother Brian, about 13, was there, and 7-year-old Erin and her fraternal twin sister Jaclyn raced around the table. Erin was much more extroverted than her twin. I remember Bettye Sue saying to her, “Do you know what you and your cousin Kelly have in common that no one else here has?” Erin looked puzzled. Bettye Sue answered her own question, “Brown eyes!”
There is not much else I remember about that particular gathering except that it was a rare occasion, as with family members living all over the place, we just didn’t have much opportunity for those mini-reunions.
So this evening I am going to meet Erin and her boyfriend, and although I am a bit nervous, a sense of gratefulness permeates my soul and I want to hang onto it with all my heart. This (semi) long-lost family member not only made the effort to let me know she would be in town, she is genuinely looking forward to seeing me.
There are factors weighing into such gratitude. My mother and Aunt Berniece are gone, my brother Brian and I are still estranged (his choice), and even more sadly, Erin’s twin sister Jaclyn died of an illness about two months before my Aunt Berniece.
Many years have passed since Erin and I last saw each other in person; some 30-odd years since the two of us looked into each other’s brown eyes. It’s doubtful she even remembers me, but that’s a non-issue when you consider all of our life experiences — the love, the loss, the pain that we have endured; the memories we have of people still with us, and those that are gone.
Sometimes the best way to deal with loss is to let new people in. Losing family members — whether through death or estrangement — can be heart-wrenching; but there are new connections, reconnections that help to counter the pain and perhaps help you heal. I am finding this out, especially after Guy, another second-cousin from my mom’s side, and his wife Jill came to San Diego back in February. What a great evening we had, and how wonderful to see how we have managed to turn out pretty good, considering we came from such dysfunctional families.
No matter how much I hold them in my heart, I cannot bring back the family members that have died or who have chosen not to be in my life. I can, however, embrace those that are still here on earth, and who do care about connecting with me, and perhaps becoming part of my life. I have a feeling that Erin and I will find out this evening that we have a lot more in common than just eye color.