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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Cousins and Other Layers of Love

I was thinking about my cousins lately. Maybe that’s because I recently had lunch with one of my cousins, Peggy. We hadn’t seen each other since her Dad’s funeral not too long ago. It was so enjoyable being with her. She is someone who shares much of my early history and went on to have a rich life of her own. As we know, first cousins are the children of our parents’ siblings. They are the same generation as we are. Second cousins are the children of our parents’ first cousins. They are of the same generation as we are too. Interesting (at least to me!) are these facts: Siblings share about 50% of their DNA; first cousins share about 12.5%; second cousins share about 3.13%.

I was blessed with many first cousins: 20 on my father’s side and 13 on my mother’s side. But I always include 9 second cousins when I think of the word “cousin.” Their family was so close to my family that I never even realized they were not my first cousins until I was a little older. My mother and their father were first cousins. So, including them, I had 42 cousins. Of those 42, 11 are deceased.

I hope I’m not boring you with these facts. Let me get to my main point: If we were lucky to know our cousins growing up, then some probably became instant playmates and later, perhaps friends. The way I see it, cousins are God’s way of expanding the layer of love many of us are wrapped in as children—and beyond. A personal note: My parents were the oldest child in their respective families. Consequently, many of my cousins are younger than I am. When you’re little kids, a 10 year age gap can seem huge, but as you age, that gap makes less of a difference.

This photo was taken at my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary celebration. I am wearing a white habit since I was teaching in North Carolina at the time. My parents are seated next to me. On my other side are two SND friends and my second cousin, Margaret, a Vincentian Sister. The picture was taken by my father’s first cousin, a professional photographer. Can you imagine what a feat it was to get everyone in the picture–yet we always managed to do so! I have pictures like this from several of our family celebrations. (In the background is our old “coop,” which housed our large incubators [when we were raising geese], provided storage for our grain, kept the tractor and lawn mower dry, and housed some of our chickens.)

When I was a kid, our extended family had frequent get togethers. We celebrated First Communions, high school graduations, weddings, and wedding anniversaries. In addition, we frequently had picnics together, often on our farm. With our expansive lawn, we had ample room to set up the croquette set, the badminton and volleyball nets, and horseshoes. Our large trees on the side of the house provided plentiful shade. Our fields assured lots of running space for the kids—many of whom lived in the city. Our dogs, cats, and flocks of geese provided more entertainment.

Cousins weren’t the only additional layer of love we had besides our parents and siblings. Our grandparents doted on us. Our aunts and uncles took a keen interest in us. As a child, I remember hearing about all the children in a place called Europe who were left orphaned by the war. I remember asking my older siblings, “If anything happens to Mommy and Daddy, who will take care of us?” They assured me: “Our aunts and uncles.”

I fully realize not everyone has had caring parents, doting grandparents, kind aunts and uncles, and a band of cousins to grow up with. But perhaps an additional layer of love for us were some of our neighbors, a babysitter, a teacher, a coach, a team we played on, a parish priest, a maintenance man, a bus driver, and the friends we made at school. I had a psychology professor in college, Sister Joseph, who always told us, “Don’t save your bouquets for a person’s funeral. Bestow your bouquets on people while they are still alive.” I would encourage you to take a few minutes this week to recall some of the people who made a positive impression on your life. Or maybe it’s time to reach out to an aunt or uncle, a cousin, a favorite teacher, a former coach and express your gratitude. In addition, today might be a good day to thank God for all the layers of love God has wrapped you in—and for the times you have been privileged to provide an additional layer of love for someone else.

For reflection:

Have any of your cousins played a significant role in your life? What about a grandparent or aunt or uncle?

Besides your extended family, who else paid attention to you as a child or cared for you?

Do you have any significant adults, besides your parents, who played a key positive role in your growing up?

Have you ever been part of an additional layer of love for someone else?

Our song today is “The Love of God” by MercyMe. It is a beautiful and comforting description of God’s great love for us.

You are invited to write a comment below on the reflection itself, the pictures, the video. Don’t be shy!

17 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie,

    That photograph of your family gathered together in 1977 is just beautiful. Are not such gatherings a foretaste of Heaven? I think so. I hope so. A reunion of good cheer, of love!

    A quick story: My mother died when I was six years old. Six years later my father re-married. One day my step-mother’s cousin and her husband, Jose, paid us a visit. I was at that time — and still am — a baseball fanatic, and so while the adults were chatting in the living room, I sat with Jose at the kitchen table and yammered on and on about baseball. As I recall, I did most of the talking, and my memory of Jose is one of patient listening. I can’t remember how long we chatted, but it seemed like a looooong time. I’m sure there was a point during my endless baseball monologue that Jose wanted to join the grownups in the other room, but in my memory he never let on that he did.

    That was the last time I ever saw Jose. He and his wife went back to Puerto Rico, and then life just rolled along. I am sure he has forgotten the conversation, but not me. His patience and kindness will live in my memory forever. He took the time to listen to a twelve year old’s love for baseball.

  2. Thank you 🙏 for this song.
    I have many fears as I travel on my journey through life here on earth, my only anchor is my prayer time.
    I pray constantly during the day. All my decisions and insecurities of making these decisions I give to God and then I listen for His path on my journey He has already planned for me to travel.
    Kathy robinson

  3. It’s so good to reconnect with you, Sr. The auto emails with blood stopped months ago. I was reading GUTD and you wrote the reflection. So I searched for your blog. Although I rarely commented, your writings have often made me feel in Gods presence and ‘wrapped in love’. They have inspired me to wrap others. Growing up in the Bronx going to Jersey to see the cousins was the best road trip ever !

  4. How timely Sister. We were very close to our cousins growing up in a small town. My first cousin David passed last week. May he Rest In Peace.

  5. Like Missy above I read your reflection in GUTD. I have missed your blogs. The email always jogged my memory to read your post. You prompt me to reach out to a cousin today. Thanks. Blessings

    1. Ditto. I too was somehow cut off from your blog. I will reconnect to you and my cousins.

    2. Dear Rita and Mary Therese, I’m in the midst of updating my blog. Hopefully when I’m finished (with help from “experts), the subscription problem will be fixed!… I’m glad this reflection prompted both of you to reach out to a cousin! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  6. I wish to thank you for your reflection in Give us this day (Monday, June 19th). Despite my anger, you made me laugh and allowed my prayer to continue with a sense of humor. Thank you.
    gerry moss

  7. The picture brings back fond memories of the gatherings at the farm and the aunts, uncles and cousins lost – thanks for sharing! I didn’t find myself in the picture, but then realized that in 1977 I was married with a one-year-old. I agree we are/were blessed to be part of such a large, loving family! (For other readers, I am one of Sr Melanie’s cousins, Peggy’s sister)

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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