I had a telephone conversation tonight with my daughter's aunt. She is the older sister of my deceased ex-boyfriend. I've only recently been befriended by her, I'd say in the last year or so.
It is a difficult issue to address. I have tried numerous times to put into words the emotion I feel when dealing with her father's family. Don't get me wrong - I like them. His mother and step-father are wonderful people, they've always been warm and kind to me, and they are fabulous grandparents. His father and step mother send my daughter birthday and Christmas cards but do not really have a place in her life...he did not have as close a relationship with them as he did his other set of parents. It has carried down to their relationship with his daughter. His older brother is aloof and wrapped up in his own world. We've never been friends, although we've always been friendly. His older sister, as I previously mentioned, has struck up a friendship with me recently. Before that, I never spoke with her. She lives out of state and we had no contact - my daughter's involvement with her family was solely through her father. He also had a younger sister, who also doesn't keep in contact with my daughter. Although, she did invite us to her wedding a few months ago, which meant a lot to my daughter, and to me as her mother.
You see, in my family, family is everything. I live 5 blocks from my parents. I live across the street from my great-aunt, a block away from my uncle, 6 blocks from my grandmother. I visit my grandparents and aunt and cousins in NC at least once a year. My cousin bought a house within walking distance of me last year. I purchased my first home - my grandparents old home - the house my father grew up in. Family is everything.
When my daughter's father committed suicide in 2008, I was afraid that she would lose that side of her family. Her uncle and his three children live near us, and they attend each other's birthday parties, talk on the phone, etc, but don't see each other very often. Her other cousins live out of state. Both sets of her grandparents live at least 3 hours away. Its a stretch to keep her connected, to keep the bond there, to ensure that she remains a part of that family. But I desperately want to do so.
My daughter is her father's spitting image. The way she looks, the way she talks, the way she laughs and cries. I grew up with him intermittently, as he was the friend of my cousin. I knew him at various ages - he pops in and out of birthday parties, a smiling face in photos - its all a fleeting memory. There are times she will laugh a certain way or make a certain noise, and I see him standing in front of me and I have to avert my gaze so that she doesn't see the tears in my eyes. I know that her family needs her. She is all they have left of him, and I know it, they know it, she knows it. Sometimes the pressure can be too much and she doesn't feel up to it. It is a lot for a child to bear, understanding the needs of others. This is what makes the relationship with his family difficult for me. I did not have a good relationship with her father. I feel out of place at their family events. I've become a part of their family by default, in his absence. I enjoy my time with them, but I am always 100% aware that I am only present because he is not. It is a constant reminder of his suicide and that the people I am standing in front of have lost their son, their brother, their uncle.
There have been times when I've caught myself speaking of my daughter's grandparents as though they were my in-laws. I was never married to her father - truth is, the relationship ended before she was even born. But they are good people. You'd want to think of them as your in-laws too. His sister referred to me as his sister in law once and we giggled, but truth is, it felt right.
Family is a funny thing. So many things can mean family. Who's to say that we aren't just one big giant family? His family, my family, all united by our love for my daughter.