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Remind me later.

The Real Meaning of Family

It was obvious during the telling of the stories the love the brothers have for one another. They shared many experiences growing up, both good and bad. They survived them all and now share a bond that is eternal. When either needs the other, they will be there. They are family.

After the wedding we made our way from Texas to Oklahoma to visit my husband’s mother and father. We did a lot more reminiscing over the week before heading back to North Carolina. We lamented that so much time had passed since we had last seen them and promised to not go so long before the next visit.

Two days after returning home from our three weeks on the road we got a call to let us know my uncle a few hours away was in the hospital and not doing well. My mom and I decided to make the drive the following morning.  By the time we were on our way we knew we were going to say our goodbyes and hopefully be of some help to my aunt and the rest of the family.

My aunt and uncle lived around the block from me when I was a child. I stayed with them when my mother worked. I have so many memories from their home -- of helping my aunt spread peanut butter on crackers from a big Saltine tin for my uncle’s lunch, of watching my aunt sew, of picking cherry tomatoes (we called them Tommy Toes) in their yard and popping them into my mouth warm off the vine.

I have wonderful memories of my uncle playing with my kids.  He loved kids and they loved him.  He had a silly, sweet way about him, making funny faces and “cutting up” with them.  I was so thankful that my children had great memories of him they would carry through their lives.

As heartbreaking as it was to be in the hospital room when my uncle passed away, and as difficult as it was to watch my aunt mourn the loss of her companion of 63 years, and as sad as it made me to know that I would never see my uncle again on this earth, I could not help but feel an enormous gratitude and appreciation and an indescribable warmth in the presence of family.

I stayed the week with my aunt and was moved by the way her son and daughter-in-law cared for her.  Thankfully they had moved my aunt and uncle to a house just a few minutes away from them a few years earlier and had really enjoyed being able to spend so much time together.

My aunt’s daughter not only cared for her mother throughout the week, but found the courage and strength to sing two beautiful hymns without accompaniment at his graveside service.

The little boy that lived next door to my aunt and uncle for many years and called them Maw Maw and Paw Paw, because they were the only grandparents he ever knew, grew up to be in the Air Force. He was stationed in California, but flew to North Carolina to visit my aunt and to serve as a pall bearer. As I said earlier, family is not defined by blood or DNA. It is about shared experiences and love and honoring commitments to each other and being there for one another when needed.

The most important lessons in life are learned when we don’t realize we are being taught. We learn them from quiet example. I witnessed the effects in the days after my uncle passed away, watching his teenage grandsons quietly going about doing little things for my aunt without being asked. Simple things really, like programming her coffee maker so that all she had to do the next morning was push a button. Loving gestures like that showed me they have learned how to love and care for those in their family by watching the examples of their grandfather and grandmother and father and mother and aunt and others in the close knit family.

These are the things -- shared experiences, thoughtful gestures, unconditional love and support -- that make a family.  I didn’t have to go through the emotional highs and lows of those four weeks this summer to know that, but they certainly did help to remind me.