My cousin died on Sunday far away in Cyprus. I hadn't seen him for years, not really known him as an adult, though I knew him well as a child. So why was the loss like a physical blow, leaving me sick and shaking, quite different from how I felt losing a closer friend. I was sad, sorry as one would be and there was the usual stilled feeling that death brings. But what is it about the blood tie that is visceral?
How is it that I can see another cousin who I only visit occasionally and with whom I have little in common and there is a link. It is not friendship as I don't think either of us would choose each other as friends. There is a family history – we both remember staying with Granny together, but our shared family memories are very different. People always remarked they couldn't believe my mother and my aunt had grown up in the same household as my mother's memories are affectionate and filled with laughter, while her sister's have a muted, hurt tone. But we make an effort to meet each time I go home and I feel the blood tie, the recognition.
I have another cousin who I love like a sister, who I hurt for and laugh with. Conversation bubbles between us in a kaleidoscope of questions and memories.
Yet another cousin, the American branch, I only first met in my thirties. My husband sat, bemused and laughing as words tumbled out of our mouths and hands flew. “You have to be cousins,” he said. Yet we had no background in common and she is very different in character from me, more church and community oriented, less will o' the whisp. But we both had the same great-grandmother, the family famous Swedish grandmother, who was a turbulent shock to a respectable Victorian family.
“My dear,” it was whispered, “she talks to strangers on trains.”
So what is it that forms a moat round families. We may not like each other, but we belong. Sometimes, we make uneasy bedfellows and often we tread a minefield, remembering who dislikes who and what not to mention to whom. But the blood tie is like an invisible steel rope. It holds us and we recognize it, not just with lip service, but a gut knowing that dies hard within us.