Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: Tillsonburg writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
Last year sometime, it was half-jokingly-half truthfully expressed we should do another extended family trip. My Auntie factually with a chuckle declared, “I am not being morbid, but we better get going on this trip as we are not getting any younger.”
She is a young, spicy and fun 84-year-old and my uncle is a just couple years older.
And I am not trying to be morbid when I say, the last extended family trip we voyaged on was in 2013 and unknown to all of us at the time, my father would leave this realm later that same year.
Our cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents can be some of our biggest fans. They can be a part of the most important events in our lives. Extended family can be our first source when we need assistance and they can be some of our closest friends despite any age differences.
The value of my extended family has held some of the most impactful life moments shared.
My Auntie and Uncle have been in my corner as long as I can remember. They are my godparents and if given the chance, my Auntie is sure to let you know this information, as it is a role she holds dearly. Her son, my cousin was one of my favorite childhood playmate. We spent every holiday together and he, along with my sister and I, ate at the “special” kids table in another room for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Years were spent giggling while burning our raw carrots in the candle they supplied us.
I never met my maternal grandmother as she passed away while my mother was pregnant with me. My grandfather was a war vet. He was quiet, loved lifesavers and seemed to always be sporting a cardigan, from what I remember. I was 10 years old when he died. I still remember my Auntie sitting on my bed with me, sharing her spiritual perspective of life and death and me feeling comforted by her words.
My mom’s sister’s family were close to the hospital in the city they lived in and when we were older we would walk over and go up to the top floor of the hospital parking garage. Doesn’t seem like much when I type it, but as a young pre-teen, it felt like we were on top of the world. That is, until my second cousin pushed the elevator alarm and we had to run like mad dogs, down the road and hide behind trees at the nearby park leaving us out of breath and laughing hysterically.
The first time I meditated was in my teens. My cousin took me to his friend’s house a couple blocks away and we sat in his basement, lit incense and were instructed to focus on “a warm glowing light” in our minds. I remember doing it vividly to this day... and enjoying it.
In my 20s, my dear cousin returned from travelling the world for a couple of years. Reconnecting with him made me happy. We went to a local establishment in the city for some pub grub and he told me he had something to tell me, something he had never told anyone before. My cousin shared with me that he was gay. To this day, I feel special to hold the title of “first told.” I am grateful that our cousin-friendship allowed him to feel comfortable with that disclosure, knowing it would be met with love and support.
When I was going through a very difficult time in my life about 15 years ago, I went to him on the other side of the country. Our ability to find a hoot and a holler in most everything and anything made it the precise medicine required. He has been my cousin, my brother and my friend since I can remember.
So here we are today as I type this column, on this small Mayan Island infused with magic and an indescribable contentment. My husband and I first visited here 10 years ago and exchanged vows seven years ago with 20 of our closest people. The beautiful memories of our celebration that included both mine and my husband’s extended family are seen in the places we now visit as we recollect the loving memories. I am fondly reliving time spent here with my father.
I believe it’s important to make extended family a regular part of this celebration of life and to show the benefits of that love to my children, so they too will develop this appreciation too. We can learn so much from the valuable stories and perspectives that other family members may have or remember.
New research from England indicates the importance of extended family members such as uncles and aunts and cousins. “I have found that children with close family ties and connections to their cultures do better. They have a sense of pride and a sense of where they came from...” states Dr Michael Rubino, child therapist.
Some scholars have used the term "grand-family" to describe the close relationship between grandparents, children, and grandchildren (which includes the aunts, uncles and cousins) in Mexican society. Larissa A. Lomnitz, a sociologist and author describes the extended or grandfamily as "the basic unit of family solidarity in Mexico," where basic family obligations between grandparents, children, and grandchildren include "economic support, participation in family rituals, and social recognition."
So here we are on this tiny south island: My mother, my husband and children, my aunt and uncle and my cousins. And while my father is not here physically, my mother had a visit from a dove this morning on the balcony and we all feel his presence with us.
The sun seems brighter, the food tastes better and my heart is full of love as I vacation with the generation above and below myself. We are on a Mayan island that celebrates the relevance of extended family and I am enjoying this time with the people in this world, who have been my favorite since the day I met them.
The value of family and extended family is immeasurable.