At first glance, I grew up in a small family. My parents, brother, me and a dog - usually a black poodle with a name ending in 'i.' When my parents emigrated from Slovakia in the early 70s, they left family behind in their communist-occupied homeland.
As is the case with many of us, but especially immigrants, you make your own family. Here's my chosen family, our fathers with their thick accents, our mothers who understand and love them, and us first-generation American children ... and just a lot of love and memories.
I have a lot of wonderful memories of my wedding day but I have to tell you, that first picture, with all my aunts and cousins ... was the loudest ... and also one of my favorites. In that moment as we argued over the placement of the flag, it was clearer than ever that they are my people.
I love them all the way I imagine most of you love the families you grew up with. They are the aunts, uncles and cousins of my heart. One of them described it perfectly in an email this week:
"This is our true family; if not by blood, by love and lifetime."
That is exactly how I feel, Sasha.
Some of these guys in the picture above grew up together in small Slovak town, Piestany. I've heart stories about their antics and trials my entire life and they are the truest of friends.
All this is to say, we lost one of the best this weekend, our Ujo Relo, Apu to his immediate family. May he rest in peace.
He is alive in my mind with his unique accent, different than my dad's but so familiar, with his stories, wisdom imparted through quotations, and if I squeeze my eyes closed I can all but smell the faint memory of pipe smoke at the edge of a playground and hear his laughter.
He leaves behind a beautiful family, who dances through their tears, hold each other tight and are surrounded by love ... I send my deepest condolences to them and look forward to wrapping them up for a real hug soon.
"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you."