My wife and I are the only members of our family to have moved away from our hometown, the rest of our siblings chose to make their home fairly close to our parents, but we moved a mere three hours west to a smaller city. So for the last 27 years we have raised our family and become a part of the community in Central Texas. We were always the ones who drove in from out of town to be with family during the holidays, and we felt bad, from time to time, asking our family to come visit us to attend our children’s birthday parties, recitals, musicals, first communion and confirmations, but we all knew that even though there were a few hours between us it was important to continue to be a part of each other’s lives. Family is important, when we only had one child, I had the opportunity to move across the country for a job, we seriously considered it, but ultimately we decided that we didn’t want to be that far away from our extended family.
We have never regretted that decision. Only a few years after we decided not to move, my mother passed away at the relatively young age of 54. She was admitted to the hospital complaining of back pain and the cause of her pain was determined to be complications from undiagnosed stage 4 breast cancer. She passed away within a week of the diagnosis and my wife and I and our young children got to see her shortly after she was admitted and diagnosed with cancer and all of us, minus the young children, were able to be at her side praying the rosary when she passed away. Despite living 3 hours away, we always took every opportunity to get together with our extended family. My mother would drive up to see us if we needed a babysitter, as long as as we gave her at least a few hours notice. We have lots of home videos of my parents and my in-laws on family vacations, at all those special family events both in our city as well as theirs.
I have often pondered what it is about extended family relationships that makes them so important. There is something about getting to know your relatives and even deceased ancestors that helps you to go beyond yourself and see your life from a new perspective. Knowing your family history allows you to know yourself better, it gives you a sense of belonging, an identity bigger than just yourself. Let me provide an example, my Mom and Dad did quite a bit of genealogy work prior to my Mother’s untimely death in 1999, and it literally saved their marriage. I will never know all the details and I doubt that either of my parents could put it into words, but I suspect that by researching the lives of their ancestors and hearing stories about them from older relatives who had not yet died, they were inspired by stories of those who caused them to come into existence.
Strong relationships with extended family members can be difficult, but also very rewarding. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. God chose them for you, for your salvation. Perhaps you have moved far away from your family members, what can you do? Ultimately it is all about priorities, when you are planning out your holidays, do you plan vacations around spending time with extended family? Do you keep in contact with your parents, brothers and sisters on a regular basis? Do you call just to see what is happening in their lives? Even though many people live far from their extended family, technology has made it easier to keep in touch, video calling is available to most anyone reading this post, social media helps you to share videos, photos and short tidbits about your life with family who may be across the country or the world. If you can’t be there in person, use your imagination and come up with ways that you can stay involved in the lives of your nieces, nephews and grandparents. The hardest part of doing this is making the decision that these relationships are important enough to be a priority in your life amongst the many activities and general business of family life.
This has been a rough year for our family and now during this time we find ourselves again facing the reality of losing another parent. Because we know the value of these relationships, we have chosen to uproot our family and temporarily live in the city of our relatives to be with them during my Father-in-Laws illness. We have had to make many sacrifices, it is not easy, but it is definitely the best gift we can give to our children and their grandparents. The opportunity to be present to one another and nourish those relationships we have built with our extended family is irreplaceable. These interactions with family members are more profoundly meaningful than any other interactions we can have in this life. These are the people God has given us to love and to cherish. Families are the design of God to pass on the knowledge of life, faith, and love.
“For the LORD sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. He who honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. He who reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys the LORD who brings comfort to his mother.” Sirach 3:2-7