Family is a construct that I have always had a difficult time understanding. My father died when I was sixteen. It left a large, gaping hole in my nuclear family that we pretended was not there. Uncle Ken is my father’s brother, and he tried to help fill that gap.
Distance between our immediate families and my moves overseas made closeness difficult. But over the last decade, we have made a real effort to rekindle that bond.
The thing is – it is not an effort. Even with Aunt Sylvia gone and when it is just Uncle Ken and I, there is a symbiotic interaction between us that I find calming. We eat (a lot), talk, and read our books together. We laugh and kid each other and talk some more.
Uncle Ken and I bundled up for summer in the boat at the cottage.
When Nick arrived in Canada, during this latest trip, I told him about the week before that I had at the cottage and the ease in which Uncle Ken and I hung out. This is what Nick said:
Some believe that when someone passes away their energy remains or is revisited in different forms. Is it possible that your father has connected with you through Uncle Ken and to his brother through you?
I don’t have well-formed beliefs about what comes after this life, but the idea resonates with me. Uncle Ken feels like a father to me. It might be his likeness to my dad, but I don’t think so. His daughters, Tara and Shawna, treat me like a sister. Aunt Sylvia treated me like a daughter. I am deeply grateful to have been included in a ceremony to spread her ashes in the river in front of the cottage.
I spread flower petals in Aunt Sylvia's honour
Shawna's family as we raft in front of the cottage.
Tara's family and Sylvia's brother Bev gather to honour Sylvia
Nick’s primary reason to come to Canada was to settle his eldest son, Oliver, off-campus at the University of Guelph. His youngest son, James, also came for the experience. I was able to observe the three of them as a family. Just as my sister, Laura, and I are very different to each other, so are Oliver and James. And yet, there is a camaraderie between them that maybe only siblings can experience.
Oliver and James take the kayaks out at the cottage
Nick with Oliver and James downtown Toronto - I need to get these boys to smile!
Oliver and James were the first into the cold water
My sister and I get mistaken for a lesbian couple when we travel. We do not look alike, yet there is a familiarity between us that others mistake for romantic connection. It is not that we are affectionate, yet there is an ease. When writing about my travels with Laura, this was one of my reflections:
There is a simplicity to traveling with my sister that I have never experienced traveling with romantic partners. I have always felt a tension when traveling with a boyfriend that stems from wondering if the trip will result in the loss of their love. I am that little more careful about what I say, how I express frustration, or my desire for the next adventure. With my sister, the familiarity we share allows me to relax. I cannot say that the feeling of unconditional love is familiar to me but my bond with my sister is. I think that they may be one and the same.
Laura and I on our last trip - pre-pandemic - Brazil
I had an amazing week with Nick and his boys. I can tell that Nick loves them and that they deeply respect and love him in return. Their terms are unconditional.
Our last evening in Canada, we went for a steak dinner to tie up the trip. Nick asked Oliver how he was feeling about us leaving the next day. Oliver replied that he was ok, he is surrounded by good friends, loves his new room, and is looking forward to hanging out with his house mates. He also said this:
But there is something about spending time with family. It makes me feel safe.
With Nick and his boys for a day of boating
This is how I feel – safe – with Nick and his family, with Uncle Ken and his family, and with the family of friendships that I have cultivated in Barbados. In my return to Barbados this week, I miss my family in Canada, and love and am connecting deeply with my family here. Family is a concept that I have finally come to appreciate and understand.
"The Cottage" - my other happy place