All my life, there have been two things that have always held the place of utmost importance in my life. Those two things are faith and family. Family has always jockeyed for the lead and the choices I've made in my life reflect that.
Growing up, grandparents weren't always a part of life, frankly they meant clothes we'd never have chosen (and didn't always fit) at Christmas and a card with money on birthdays. It always puzzled me when people talked about cousins with fondness and closeness. Extended family was a nebulous concept- I had it but didn't know them because they didn't live in the same state. I had all the family I needed, overbearing older sisters, an older brother, too many younger brothers and finally a younger sister. For those people, those eight siblings, two parents, they were my life. For them, I made sacrifice after sacrifice, putting their needs ahead of my future and my personal goals. I stayed long after my other siblings left, I made my family my primary relationship when everybody else was dating and getting married. I took care of my mother as her health failed. I cooked and cleaned and did laundry. I wasn't perfect for doing this, I wasn't always happy about it, but the thing is, I did it. When I could have chosen to focus on one person, myself, I didn't. My family came first.
When the unthinkable happened, when my mother died, it was horrible. I can't speak for everybody, but I felt that we pulled together a little tighter in the aftermath. Our father, never the active parent, made an effort. But the unthinkable happened again, our dad died a year and a half after our mom. Maybe you understand what it's like, maybe you don't. Maybe your parents were crappy. But to realize that no one in the world will ever look at you and say "That's *my* daughter" because no one else is your mom, your dad, it's an indescribable pain and loss. Even before it hits you that they won't be there for life's big moments, that they won't be there at your wedding, they'll never hold your first child, there's no one to call and say "hey, you have gone through buying a car/house/jetski, what's your advice?" Even if you have a surrogate, no one looks at you and says "She's mine, my daughter, my flesh and blood. I gave you life." You're orphaned.
After the loss of both parents, the bond between my siblings was fragile and splintered terribly. To make a long story short, it was a hot mess. The best example I can give you is that of a brutally messy divorce with kids involved. We split and it was anything but amicable.
After an entire life spent devoted to family I suddenly found myself without any. I finally had a life where my only concern was myself. I was miserable and lonely without family, I didn't know what to do with myself. That's when my extended family came into the picture. My father's two brothers reached out to the whole family and let me tell you, I reached back. I visited my aunt, uncle and cousins after living alone for six months. Have you ever been absolutely freezing cold and had a warm blanket wrapped around you? It was like that, like coming in from the cold. I left my heart there and moved in with them as soon as the lease on my apartment ended.
There's something that I experience, now that I am orphaned. It's parent envy. There are times I want to slap people for speaking badly about their parents. It was (and to an extent, still is) hard being around people and their parents because the pain and jealousy can be overwhelming. I've recently learned that there's also brother and sister envy. There still are enormous holes in my life that used to be occupied by five brothers and two sisters and a mom and dad. I feel the absence of those people keenly. Huge chunks of my identity are gone. Huge chunks of my history are gone.
Who am I without my family? Who am I, by myself? Who is Hannah? This is my odyssey.