A birth just occurred in my family. Honestly, I didn't expect it to affect me as intensely as it's doing. Not because of the baby herself (all babies are wonderful) but because what her birth represents in my family's history.
My brother's son Johnathan and his wife Jessica just had baby Ella, the first of a new generation. Ella carries our family's name forward to a level beyond my adult nephew and nieces. I wasn't sure what my relation to the child is called so I had to look it up: she's my "grand-niece" or "great-niece," depending on the term you prefer.
When I was growing up, there were four of us: my mother, my father, my brother Richard and myself. My parents had harsh childhoods during rough times (e.g., World War II). They were immigrants struggling to make viable lives in a new country -- which explains how feverishly they clung to the idea of family. Lacking other support, they tried and succeeded at creating their own family. My mother, especially.
My mother, Barbara Jo, was a serious woman. She ruled our family with an iron fist. Grown men quivered at her approach. You learned quickly that, despite her size (under 5-ft tall), Barbara Jo always got what she wanted. As they say in Star Trek, resistance was futile. She grabbed your ankle with bulldog grip and wouldn't let go until you surrendered. We always did.
What made my mother's control palatable was its motivation -- love. You instinctively knew she was devoting her life and all her effort toward building and maintaining a family. A real one with strong bonds. A family that didn't exist before her.
I was the first born. I was taught the importance of my life -- I represented my family to the outside world. Our success, not merely mine, was reflected in every accomplishment I achieved. Scholastic scores, athletic victories, they were all lauded by my parents as evidence of the family's strength. I was considered more than an individual, I was held up as the chief team-player on whom huge hope and expectation was laid. That was drilled into me daily. I didn't have a choice so objecting to it was pointless.
My brother Richard was only one year younger which made our family unit very compact. The four of us did everything together, from eating dinner every day to camping on cheap vacations. "The boys" were treated the same even though Richard's experience of life differed dramatically from mine.
Richard was troubled in several ways. When he didn't measure up to my parents' expectations, they came down hard on him. Which caused a deep rift between them and him. I tried to support Richard and advised him repeatedly not to compare himself to me or replicate my successes; I urged him to forge his own path in other directions. He had trouble doing that; he kept banging against the same wall. Eventually Richard's misbehavior got worse, out of frustration at his lack of achievement and my parents' unrelenting pressure. Ironically, Richard ended up imitating my parents in striking ways while I quietly detached myself from their influence.
Richard had three small children, the oldest of whom, Johnathan, was three when Richard died. Those children grew up not knowing or remembering their father.
My mother died in 1990 at the young age of 54 (breast cancer). Richard died in 1991 at the tender age of 33 (heart defect). My father is still alive, at age 91, but in declining mental ability. He's comfortable but in some ways already gone.
I'm jubilant at the birth of a new generation for my family. But... it comes with a sense of loss. For the loved ones no longer here, for the life now gone. For my connections to family who exist only in my memory.