I have a fairly big family. Five brothers and sisters, four in-laws, 10 nieces and nephews. And now that my older sister moved back to town, we are all living in the same city. We get together often for holidays, birthdays and special events. When we go trick-or-treating, we all go together and take up half the street as we knock on doors. We have our share of familial challenges (trust me), but we’re pretty close-knit most of the time.
One of my favorite parts of this big family is watching the friendships between the cousins grow. Cousins play such a unique role in a kid’s life. They aren’t so ever-present to get the sibling-treatment (bickering, rivalry, insult-slinging), but they are present for so many of the milestones, both big and small. They are there when you deliver your lines at the school play, cheering you on when you’re up to bat, patting you on the back after you miss that basket. They are there for every single birthday, annual camping trips and when your Grandpa gets sick and dies. They are there for the best and worst moments of life — forging this unbreakable bond.
We recently went to my niece’s birthday party and Claire, who has been besties with her since they were toddling, felt a bit threatened by a friend who was also invited to the birthday. She pulled me into the bathroom to tell me how she felt like she was being replaced by this girl — “this outsider.” This is what I told her:
For both of you, friends will come and friends will go. New friends will come. Some will be best friends. But those friendships don’t lessen what you have with each other. What you have is deep and unbreakable — a bond you’ve been forging since you were babies. A bond that will last your lifetime.
I saw the relief wash over her. And I was taken by surprise at how deeply I felt those words. I’ve always known these cousins would have a close connection, but in that moment I pictured their future selves. As teenagers and 20-somethings. 30-somethings with kids of their own. Being there for each other as they lose their parents/aunts and uncles. It occurred to me that after I’m gone, they’ll be there together, reminiscing about long-forgotten games of hide-and-seek, Christmas at Grandma’s, Easter egg hunts and sleepovers. They’ll have the “remember when” moments and laugh until they can’t breathe. When the tears are flowing, they’ll give that long hug that says “I know. I got you.”
What a beautiful gift for them — and me.