One thing that fascinates me about families is what we construct for connections, the ways in which biology and choice act as through lines for creation and continuity. I look at the lucky wonder of R.’s and my three sons and witness the tracings—directly, genetically—to R. and his parents, sideways to R.’s siblings, threads of trait and appearance surfacing among cousins. I have opted in to this generational flow, by partnering through marriage, by parenting through birth; similarly, my daughters-in-law and I—DNA strangers to each other—may one day (if they want, if bodies and life as it plays out allow) share strands through their child(ren), my grandchild(ren). 32-1/2 years ago, I married a man who is number six of seven children in his family of origin, and if my parents-in-law hadn’t kept going, hadn’t birthed and raised that many people, I wouldn’t have this husband of mine, these children of ours—at least not in their very particular forms, their just-in-timings, their sideways slips into the everything of my life.
Three nights ago, and following my mother-in-law by less than eleven months, my father-in-law—the man to whom, through beginnings and extensions, I owe my greatest joys—breathed his last on the earth in this form. Two of my sisters-in-law had provided constant care for him during all the lit and darkened hours of every 24 over the past few months; they and their families and hospice were there to witness and hold him through both the challenges of his final illness and injury and the moment of his passing. This coming Monday, we’ll gather in South Jersey from around the country, as many as possible of the original seven siblings and the married ins as well as the adopteds and steps and natural borns of his 27 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, all our diverse threads entwining to loom the extensions of the sturdy, durable fabric of his life. We’ll view and bury and lay to rest his 88-year-old body; we’ll memorialize his wide range of attributes, accomplishments, and service; we’ll mourn his departure; we’ll honor him with our presence, our singing, our words of love for him and each other. And then R. and his siblings will step forward as the oldest living generation of their family, persisting in carrying on their father’s central legacy of being deeply interested in life.