A Family with Missing Pieces

A Family with Missing Pieces


What do you immediately think of when you hear the word family?

Do you think of just your household unit, yourself, spouse and children?  Or do you think your whole family including parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all their children?  Maybe you even think of all of them and very close friends that you consider to be like family to you.

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I normally think of all this and then some!  The word family means a lot to me in many ways!  I have my blood-related family and some very close friends that I include in that category.  I also have a little larger circle of friends that I also consider like family to me and then there is always church-family.  Before I retired I had a group I considered my work-family and I still stay in contact with many of them, so I am very close with a lot of people that feel like family to me.  So what makes people family or like family to you?

For me, it’s the bond you share with another person, it’s what the other person’s respect toward you and their loyalty has meant to you over time.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” -Richard Bach

Let’s talk more about the blood-related family,

The very first relationships that we form in life are normally with our parents and siblings, then our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  These are the closest members of our family and the ones that are going to be teaching us about relationships in our life as we grow and develop throughout our childhood.   As newborns, we usually form an instant bond with our mothers then start increasing our circle of family relationships from there.  As we grow and go through childhood we get comfortable, learn to love and even depend on our family and the bonds we form.  We even grow up learning and enjoying family traditions, especially during holidays.  We learn who is the true matriarch of the families, the one that plans for the holidays and customs, the one that holds everything together for the rest of the family, the one that everyone else seems to depend on without it ever really being spoken aloud.  At least this is how it always seemed in my family when I was growing up!

When I was a child it was my parents, my older brother and myself in our household.  My paternal grandmother lived within less than 4 or 5 miles of us and my maternal grandparents were less than 10 miles away.  Both sides of my family came from generations of farmers and ranchers, with all the children growing up working on the family farms.  We were all very close and always spent a lot of time together.   I was taught from an early age how to do a lot of things on the farm, and I learned from both grandmothers, things like sewing, cooking and how to grow vegetables in our gardens.    I learned how to can and preserve vegetables from my paternal Grandma.  My maternal Granny taught me to gather fresh eggs, make homemade jelly and how to cut up a chicken and fry it in a cast-iron skillet over a wood-burning stove.   Both of my grandmothers were very unique ladies and I loved soaking up their wisdom!

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On Saturdays while my daddy and brother were working on the farm, my momma and I went to the grocery store, then afterward we went to my Granny’s (maternal side), where we spent the afternoon visiting and helping her with anything she needed us to do.  We also prepared our evening meal there and ate with Granny and PawPaw when my daddy and brother joined us there after finishing their day’s work.  This happened every Saturday, it was just what we did without question once a week, no matter how much time we may have spent with my grandparents throughout that week already.   It was one of those ‘unspoken family rules’ that as a kid, I just knew it was going to happen sure as the sun came up, and I loved it!  Then on Sundays, after church, we always went to Grandma’s (paternal side) for lunch.  My daddy’s sister, her husband and two girls would always come there too and we’d spend the rest of the day there together.  My daddy, Uncle Frank, and my brother usually went fishing, sometimes we all went, sometimes the women sat and shelled black-eyed peas.  But we all just spend the day together.  Again, another ‘unspoken family rule’ that was just going to happen regardless of anything else, because nothing else mattered more than time with family.  I loved Sundays as much as I did the Saturdays!

Living close to both Grandparents made the Holidays loads of fun

Because grandparents tend to really spoil kids during the holidays, it made it extra fun for me with us living close to both grandmothers!  Both of them loved to cook big meals, and they were excellent cooks, no wonder I was always a “chunky” little girl!  This also meant family gatherings and cousins to play with, so it was my favorite time of year! Of course, there were traditions, yes, more of those ‘unspoken family rules’ that just happened without having to be discussed.  On Thanksgiving Day we had lunch with my paternal grandmother, then later that evening we had a big even meal at my maternal grandmother’s house.  At Christmas, it was a much bigger celebration!  On Christmas Eve we went to my maternal grandmother’s house where aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered as well.  We set out with a trailer and all of us riding on it to go down to the pasture to cut down a Christmas tree and bring it back to decorate.  It was a big ordeal and something that was obviously a long set tradition.   Once the tree was decorated, we enjoyed a large overly abundant meal and somehow during that meal gifts from the grandparents, aunts and uncles appeared under the tree for all the kids, in a way that seemed magical to all of us children.  Once the packages were unwrapped, lots of love and hugs were shared, my parents shuffled my brother and I off to our house for some much-needed sleep.  We awoke on Christmas morning to what seemed like even more Christmas magic with loads of more gifts from Santa because there were always a lot more gifts there than what I, as a child thought my parents could ever afford.  Later that morning, we were forced to stop playing with our new toys to go to our maternal grandmother’s house for lunch with aunts, uncles and more cousins and more gifts!  It was two days of food, gifts, cousins and playtime, just pure kid heaven on earth for me!!

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When did things start to change

About the time I was in junior high school when I was around 13 years old, my maternal grandmother who I called Granny passed away, she was only 63 years old at the time and it was rather unexpected.  Her death rocked me to my core!  I had dealt with the death of those close to me before, my mother’s baby sister passed away when I was nine.  She was only 27 when she died, she had juvenile diabetes from the time she was 3 and died from complications of diabetes.  Her death was difficult for our entire family, also close to that time a very close friend of mine lost his mother to cancer, so I had already dealt with death in my young life.  Losing my Granny was totally different for me, this was my Granny!!!  She was like a second mother to me!  I was only 13, she still seemed fairly young to me, and it happened so quickly, how could this happen?  All this was going through my mind and I just couldn’t accept it, my parents and my brother tried to comfort me, but all I wanted to do was stay in the barn with my horse.  My horse and the barn were always where I found the most comfort as a kid, other than with my Granny and now she was gone.  I muddled through the next few days, family all coming in from out of town, friends bringing food, offering condolences and then the funeral.  After those few days then it was back to school and our day to day lives, I was expected to go on like nothing had happened or changed.  But everything had changed for me, my life was different, a big piece of my life was now missing. My Papaw moved out of the big two-story farmhouse into a smaller house in town.  Then the holidays arrived, the first holidays without my Granny.  This is when I learned, or maybe I just instinctively realized that all of the ‘unspoken family rules’ never actually had to be discussed.  That year tradition changed, there wasn’t a huge family gathering at my Papaw’s house, there was no trip with the trailer to go chop down a Christmas tree, no huge load of the magical appearance of gifts under a tree, no that year everything was just different.  We still went to my paternal grandmother’s as always, nothing changed on that side, but obviously things would never be the same on my maternal grandparents’ side again.  My mom assumed the role of host for the now ‘missing matriarch’ that once was my Granny’s spot in the family puzzle.  We did things as similar to how my Granny always did them as we could, but it was never exactly the same, a piece was always missing, some of the “Christmas magic” was gone for me.

As time went on, things became a little easier, my brother and I both grew up, he married, I had my first daughter, later I married then had my twins and my brother and his wife had their one and only child.  Holidays became more fun with each addition to our family, some of the “magic” returned for me as I would watch the twinkles and smiles in those precious faces of our children, watching them with their Granny and Grandaddy as the cycle started to repeat, and new traditions were forming along with old ones being incorporated in to the lives of our children.  Life was good again!

When I became an unwed, teenage mother with my first daughter, my mother helped me a lot with my daughter so my firstborn had a very special bond with her Granny and Grandaddy, they really were like second parents to her.  Then when I had my twins, my husband worked away from home a lot, and c’mon they were twins, two of them AND I already had a young daughter, so I needed a lot of help, again my mom stepped up to the plate as all good moms do, and so all my children were very close to their beloved Granny and Grandaddy, especially Granny!!  So when my oldest was 12 and my twins were 7, it was more than a bombshell to us all that my mom was diagnosed with end-stage colon cancer.   It quickly spread to the bone and then the brain, and within a few months, we were spending our last Christmas with her and less than a year from the first diagnosis we lost her and were attending her funeral.  My oldest daughter lost her Granny just before her 13th birthday, the same age that I lost my Granny.  My mom was only 60 years old, prime of her life, and it happened so quickly, this completely rocked our world, almost destroyed my daddy, and if not for my kids, I think it would have destroyed me, but I had to carry on for my kids’ sakes.

Once again a major piece of the family puzzle is gone, now missing, the family matriarch, and now I’m the daughter that is expected to step up, but I’m angry, in the middle of my grief and totally depressed without my mom.  I’m struggling with watching my daddy mourning and miserable day after day without his soul mate, his teenage sweetheart, his one true love now gone and no longer by his side as she always had been.  Daddy tried so hard to keep things normal for the grandkids, but he too, like my Papaw, soon moved out of the big old farmhouse that I had grown up in, and Daddy moved to a smaller house closer to town.  We no longer had big family holidays that my mom had enjoyed so much, Daddy just couldn’t enjoy it any longer, but we couldn’t allow him to be alone during those times either.  So my kids and I would cook the family favorites and get Daddy a few gifts and go to see him.  He would not go shopping or buy loads of gifts the way he and mom had always enjoyed doing together, no he simply went to the bank and got holiday envelops with a hefty amount of cash in them for each one of us.  We then spent the afternoon watching sports on TV with him until he was ready to fall asleep.  Christmas and holidays were no longer the same for us, even though I worked hard to keep some of the “Christmas magic” alive at home for the kids.

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Family traditions continued to change

As time went on, things changed, I went through two divorces, my kids grew up and we adapted.  We continued on with cooking food and going to Daddy’s for holidays, and as for our holidays at home, well for part of them I would usually be working extra shifts as a nurse while the kids spent time with their Dad and his family.  Then the kids and I would get gifts for each other and our personal tradition was to try and see which one of us could surprise the other ones the most!  It really became quite entertaining!  One of the best ones was the year that my youngest daughter (remember she is grown at this point) was given an Elmo doll that did the chicken dance.  She got excited and laughed so hard that none of us could stop laughing at her for most of the day.  Yes, she and I were still kids at heart!

We continued in this way, not really making a big ordeal over the holidays but still celebrating in our own little customary ways until my twins and my niece (my brother’s only child) were all 20 years old.  Around Christmas that year while my niece was home from college, she became ill and that’s when she was diagnosed with leukemia.  The next 11 months were a long hard-fought battle for her, and by the time the holidays rolled around again, we were then adjusting to living without this precious sweet girl no longer living here on earth with us.  Six months later we lost my daddy to a massive heart attack.   Our traditions were about to become practically non-existent.

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We started some new traditions,

Then my daughters married and started having children of their own, so now I’m the grandmother in this family puzzle.  I see the magical moments through my grandchildren’s eyes and watch the twinkles of happiness dance across their little faces.  It’s all worth the efforts of forming new traditions, mixed in with touches of the old ones because what is life and family without those loving memories of the ones we hold so dear to our hearts?  My grandchildren love to hear stories of when their parents were kids, and even some about when I was a child too.  While many loved ones may be missing physically from our holiday tables, they remain so vivid and alive in our memories.  We will always miss them, but through the memories, and by sharing those memories, the family puzzle is never really missing any pieces at all.

Does your family carry on family traditions?  Do you enjoy starting new traditions?  Please share some of them with me in the comments!  I love hearing from my readers!

until next time,


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