Like his parents, Drew's aunt is someone I've gotten much closer to since he died. Yesterday was our first time visiting since I went up to Ohio last month. I went to help her move some furniture out of her uncle's garage. The 2 hour drive out to his place was just what we needed to catch up on all that is changing in our lives with my move to Ohio. Not just my life... our lives. This move of mine is affecting all of us. His parents, who I have lived with since he died... who have become my own family in the process. My closest friends, who I will be very far away from for the first time since we all met 7 or 8 years ago. And everyone else close in my life in some way.
Sometimes life brings you odd reminders though of just how beautiful and seamless even the most complex situations can be. While with Drew's aunt yesterday, over at her uncle's house, we began looking at pictures up on the walls. In the hallway was a wall full of old photos, in particular a collage frame with 20-30 photos arranged all together. He stood and shared with us about all the pictures, who they were, who had died, etc. Brothers and sisters, aunt and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents and moms and dads. On the surface, it looks like anyone's family collage on the wall. But there was something very unique about this particular college that really stood out to me...
Within that single frame, it was not just one family tree shown. Nor was it two, of a husband and wife. This kind, old man has been widowed twice. Before me in this single frame was a beautiful blending of old pictures of his family, his first wife's family, and his second wife's family. Not only were they on the same wall together, they were in the same collage. He didn't know my story. He had no idea how completely in awe I was of this simplistic, beautiful gesture of love.
It's one of those things that people seem to try and make complicated, or think sometimes is complicated... but right there on this man's wall it was clear as day – they were not different families. They were all one big family together. With shared love and shared losses and shared memories. It was so simple. He also had little trinkets around the house from both of his wives... more of them from his second wife of course, but still, it was clear that his first wife was very much a part of it all. She was not put away in a box, or hidden in drawers. His second wife obviously welcomed her within their home. It was so beautiful.
To make things even more meaningful, I was doing this with a part of Drew's extended family... further reminding me of how deep my bonds run with them and always will.
I knew I wanted to talk about this in a post as soon as it happened... because for me, it gave such a tangible visual of the kind of home and life I want to build with someone new after being widowed. At the end of the day, I called Mike and told him about this experience. I told him how, when we eventually move in together one day, I want to create a collage just like that of our great big family. The one that is made up of four families now. That's how it should be. Losing pieces of our family may mean that it gets a little smaller. Sometimes we even lose more than just the one person when this happens, which is hard. But it also means that, one day, it gets even bigger as we join new and old parts of our families together.