By Jasjit Sangha @jasjit_sangha
Growing up as an immigrant kid in Canada and India, I got used to developing strong and intense relationships with my cousins, very quickly. Due to distance, we would only see each other every few years, but when we did, we picked up from our last visit seamlessly. There would always be a few moments of awkwardness when we met again, but very quickly, conversations started to flow, old memories were rehashed and a sense of familiarity washed over us. We were family and there was comfort in that relationship.
When I became a stepmother, it was very hard to share this side of myself with my blended family. It was hard for my husband and stepdaughters to keep up with all the relationships I had, scattered throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and South Asia. They had grown up in a very small family and they did not fully understand why my extended family relationships were so important to me – especially with anybody beyond first cousins!
For me, the web of relationships that I was immersed in, was what kept me grounded and provided me with a sense of belonging. When I was younger, I took those relationships for granted. I expected that the people I loved and cared about would always be there for me, whenever I needed them. It never occurred to me that the magic might end. Instead, there would be feelings of longing, after a fulfilling visit reconnecting with a relative.
I would return home and reminisce about how great it was to see them, knowing there would always be a next time. A flurry of emails and photos would be exchanged before they boarded their flights back home and we would continue on with our lives until our next encounter, often with little contact in between.
Earlier this year, one of my cousins, Ranjana Tasser, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was only a decade older than I was, and we shared fond memories of living in New Delhi as young women. I was a cantankerous teenager living with my Aunt and her family, in an armed forces enclave, near the heart of the city. My cousin was a young, adventurous woman in her 20s, living on her own as she climbed the ladder in the IT industry. I met her for the first time when I moved to India at age 16 and she was a role model for me with her independence, intelligence and go get-‘em attitude. I never heard her complain about issues she may have faced as a woman. All I knew was that she was excelling in a male-dominated workforce and city.
After we moved out of India and had our own families, years passed before we saw each other again. Our decade of an age difference meant that we were at different stages in our lives and they did not always intersect. It was not until we got married and had children that our lives started to steer in the same direction again. We made an effort to get together and nurture a connection between our young children, who were very close in age. I wanted them to get a taste of the same kinds of relationships I had had as a child with my cousins who lived far away – through short, but sweet, visits that built long-lasting memories.
Dealing with the loss of my cousin will be hard, because the longing to meet her again will not be satiated with another visit. Instead, the threads that connected us will be left dangling until they are woven together through new shared memories that I build with others, in her spirit. This experience has also shown me how lucky I was to have my circle of family extend well beyond my nuclear family, giving me a chance to get to know wonderful people like my cousin. Although my children will never have the same experiences I did, I will continue to foster relationships with my cousins – and their children – for them, so they too, may feel the warm embrace of family.
As a South Asian mother, do you try to make time to build relationships with your extended family? How do you keep your kids connected to family living far away?
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