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Saturday, September 10, 2016

The family that you choose


Sometimes you get to choose your family members. That honorary aunt or uncle may not be related to you by blood but they are there for you when you need someone one-step-removed from family to confide in. They know you like family, but the other complications aren’t there. They aren’t as likely to flip out if you tell them something shocking – that distance allows them to just take it all in stride and give you wise, objective advice.
Colette was that person for me. She didn’t have children of her own and her beloved husband had passed away so she was always very interested in what was going on in our lives. Colette was my grandmother’s best friend over the last twenty years or so. Maybe thirty. She was part of all our family celebrations and gatherings, and we loved her like family.
Colette had been suffering with a bad back that wouldn’t heal, in recent months. She didn’t make it to our last few gatherings, and that wasn’t like her. She lost her footing a few days ago and fell. She never did wake up. The doctors discovered she was also full of cancer. It was in her bones.  That explains why she didn’t get better and the pain never went away. The pain is gone now.
For as long as I can remember, Colette has been the life of the party. She would laugh loudly and raucously, over Dad’s dirty jokes, especially if he mixed her a drink that was a bit too stiff. She was also very fond of my long-legged, handsome husband, because he reminded her of her man, whom she had lost when they were still very much in love.
She asked about and remembered every detail of my daughters’ lives, and was as thrilled about the new grandbaby as the rest of us. I like to imagine her somewhere now, resting painlessly, her best self, maybe dancing, with her beloved Garnet. Or maybe she is enjoying cocktail hour with my Dad. It is his 75th birthday, after all.
When Dad was sick, in 2007, he told me he dreamed of a place where people were dancing. The men could dance as well as the women – they were doing the jive. There were lots of colourful, gleaming sportscars parked outside, and dozens of dogs running around. I told him it sounded like his perfect Heaven.
Colette and I never had a similar conversation but if I had to guess, her Heaven would be full of tall, handsome men (the ability to dance would be ideal), fine, beautiful things like gold jewellery, crystal and flowers, and maybe a horse or a dog or two. No cats. Colette was terrified of cats, which I discovered when she was at the farm one day and a bold barn cat chose to rub up against her leg. (Why do they always go for the people who don’t like them?)
We will miss Colette and her sage advice, her raunchy sense of humour and her zest for life.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we will likely fill the house again with about forty people but there is a trend happening. The elderly members of our tribe are leaving us slowly, and the younger ones are coming up to fill the places at the table with their chosen mates and friends. This year we have a new addition, as it is Leti’s first Thanksgiving. She will be ten months old and ready to try some of the traditional feast. Hopefully she will also have a tooth or two by then, to help her eat it.
Also at our table will be three or four people not related by blood, but part of the family just the same. They are part of our group because we love and care for them and we want to celebrate life with them at this traditional time of year.
And gathered around us, the silent guests at every family dinner. Because they haven’t really left us. They’ve just gone on ahead. We keep them with us through our stories and memories and toasts, delivered teary-eyed, with glasses held high.

On the subject of Thanksgiving, if you too are hosting a large group, consider serving them a farm-raised turkey. Ours start at about 25 lbs each. The Kemptville Farmer’s Market will be open until Thanksgiving as well, featuring the bounty of many local farms and gardens.

1 comment:

Sneakers said...

My deepest condolences on your loss. The family that you choose, or that chooses you, matters hugely. She'll be forever in your hearts.