What Constitutes ‘Family’?

This weekend, I attended the funeral and burial of a very close aunt of mine who recently died after a long and hard battle against cancer. I jokingly referred to the entire weekend as a 'weep-fest' or 'weep-o-poolza' because that is essentially what it was – a weekend of grief expressed through a tsunami of tears.

As in most cultures, funerals - like weddings - are a time for family gatherings, and this is no exception in the Liberian community. Whenever we have one of these events, my amazement in what constitutes 'family' gets reignited. While I consider my immediate family to be the descendents of my grandmother (5 children, 16 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, plus several adopted children, their descendents, and others that I'm sure I have forgotten), funerals and weddings remind me of just how limited that definition can be especially with half the Liberian population being referred to as 'auntie' or 'cousin.' How can one not include the nieces, nephews, and cousins of my grandmother and their descendents?!? And considering the multiple marriages (or 'liaisons') that are part of the norm, of course 'family' includes all stepchildren and all of their descendents! Friends, neighbors, church members, and even random strangers who somehow came into the fold and who everyone has known for at least all of my lifetime – they must be family too, right? They all seem to have a story, a connection linking us together.

I got hugged, kissed, and/or generally petted by so many people who would shout 'eh branie you don't remember me? [for some reason the 'd' in my name gets lost in the Liberian accent]' followed by 'I remember when……[fill in the blank with a several memories connecting me to said person that I've rudely forgotten since I last saw him/her in infancy].' Or someone saying 'this is 'small branie' or 'small Ju' (since I lot like my mother)

While I generally stick close to just my immediate family, I have always appreciated the wide flexibility that Liberian culture provides in defining 'family.' It's sorta like 'if you can open your heart and arms to me and mine, we'll find a place on the family tree for you.'

So what does 'family' mean to you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was nice to see you this weekend. Family for me is all inclusive. But, I hear you...