We have holidays that celebrate mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. It turns out there’s also a minor, unofficial holiday for families, today. Thankfully, we haven’t been inundated with commercials pleading that we part with our money on cards and gifts. This leaves us with time and energy to ponder our families.
Recently, I attended the funeral of my last paternal uncle. As is the situation with most funerals lately, the gathering was a de facto family reunion. In this case, this was an opportunity to meet family members related to my uncle, the first spouse of my dad’s sister. These are people unfamiliar to me.
As I waited in the back of the church for the ceremony to begin, I noticed the arrival of Nancy, a woman I recognized as a fellow regular customer of the Goodwill Store. I wouldn’t even classify her as a casual acquaintance. Why was she at my uncle’s funeral?
After the cemetery ritual, I approached Nancy to greet her. We expressed mutual surprise that each of us were at the funeral. It turns out that we are first cousins by marriage. She is one of my uncle’s nieces, and I am one of my aunt’s nephews. My personal definition of family had just been altered a bit.
The memory of this recent event caused me to ponder how many definitions of family there are in this world. One definition of the word, family, states that it is a “social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the child or children they care for.” Another entry states that family is “any group of persons related by blood or marriage such as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins.”
We also have the informal definition of family that some people use in the sense that certain close friends think of each other as their “real family”. There are also references in popular and sacred literature to the “family of man”. In effect, we are all family.
Part of the beauty of family is that we can expand our personal definition of the word. We grow to include more than our membership in a nuclear family to being members of extended family, to being part of the family of a certain ethnic group or nationality or a minority, to the totality of humanity.
The western definition of the nuclear family has become more inclusive. In addition to parenting by two differently gendered adults, we have single-parent families, and same gendered parenting families. There are also families that do not have children in them. Each of these types of nuclear families provide valuable contributions to society as a whole.
Each of us belongs to family. Maybe someday we will treat one another as close family members.