My father was one of two surviving children, his brother a couple of years his junior. Their baby sister died as a very young infant or toddler. My mother was an only child, adopted by a couple who were older and had been unable to bear a child of their own. Her biological parents were both deceased and family members who took in her siblings didn’t feel they could handle a newborn infant.

I don’t know if my aunt had siblings or not, I did know her mother when I was young, but don’t recall ever meeting siblings.

Between the brothers and their wives, there were 7 children. I am the oldest of them and the oldest surviving member of this biological unit. My sister was the next born, then a female first cousin, my brother, then a male first cousin, followed later by two more female first cousins. There is a span of 14 years between me and my youngest first cousin.

My uncle’s work took him away from Virginia for most of my life so I didn’t have frequent contact with the cousins, but we did all gather each year in the Virginia mountains for a week.

This photograph has my father and stepmom, who my father married after my mother passed away taken at a family gathering in the mountains to celebrate my Dad’s birthday. I am unsure of the year. I am sitting on the wall on the right in the black teeshirt, the youngest first cousin is in the red shirt over my Dad’s shoulder left center. In the center of the front row in the brown shirt is my younger brother’s youngest child, his daughter and her Mom beside her. I will not try to identify the others in this photo as you see, many generations.

My mother passed away when I was 40 years old, in early December. That Christmas was difficult for our family, but new traditions formed as Dad moved on in his life, remarried and added two step siblings to the clan. Five years ago, my Dad passed away less than a week before Christmas. My youngest first cousin had gathered me and driven me across the state to visit him in the hospital during his last few days. He remained alert and cognizant of the situation, said his goodbyes to each of us and she and I drove back across the state a few days later, as she had to return to work, I was going to return alone the next day but he died that night. Another hard Christmas.

Early this month, I received a call from my brother one morning, he was in tears, his little girl had died early that morning, not of Covid, but a tragic loss. She was born with a genetic disorder that she coped with her entire life, was told she probably couldn’t have children, but she did, a son who turned 4 only a couple days before she passed away. She had a tough few months healthwise, but seemed to be doing better. She, her husband, and son lived in Canada. The borders are closed. All I could do is send my love in a note.

Two weeks ago, I was notified that the youngest first cousin had been hospitalized. Again, not from Covid, but she had an underlying condition for which she took medications and her system started shutting down. Two nights ago, she passed away, leaving her husband, her two sons over her shoulders in the photo, their wives and a just turned 2 year old grandson. Her husband and at least one of her sons were with her. Her sons and their families live across the country.

As I said, I didn’t see my cousins except for a week each summer, but this cousin lived half an hour from us and we did develop a closer relationship after we moved to the mountains in retirement. Dinners out occasionally, kayaking on the river together. Her birthday and our anniversary share a date, her grandson and I share the same birthday.

I’m not writing this looking for sympathy, just to encourage all of you to look at your families and cherish them, hold your relationships close to you. You never know when that connection may be permanently severed. Heal your differences if you have them. Times are tough enough with the social isolation not to have some connection with your families.

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