Earlier this week, I was reading an obituary. At the end of the tribute was the following sentence: “He and his wife, Frances, were married for 58 years and had four children, 10 grandchildren, five step-grandchildren, and four step-great-grandchildren.” My thought was, “How sad.”
Now how sad that this man was surrounded by family. Rather, how sad that some of his family were labeled as “other.”
I have a bias as I think about “steps” — my parents remain married to their first spouses, and my sibling remains married to his first spouse. I’ve never been divorced, and my husband was not married before we married each other. There are no “steps” in my immediate family.
I understand that there are times when “step” is vitally important in defining a relationship. There are legal matters and medical matters where it’s absolutely necessary to distinguish between who is a blood relative and who is not.
But what possible value is there in drawing this distinction in an obituary? In a record of a man’s life, which presumably exists to record who he loved and who loved him?
Did the family celebrate Thanksgiving, with separate tables for the steps? Were the real children given presents at Christmas, but the steps relegated to the kitchen for dish-washing and other chores?
And what about the dead man’s child(ren), the one(s) who apparently had the audacity to marry a person who already had children? Were they allowed to associate with the real family, or were they sent off with the steps?
We all have some family members we like more than others. We all have relatives we’d rather not boast about. Some of us even have family we “forget” to count, for certain purposes.
But this write-up felt like “step” shaming to me, with its half-references. (And yeah, that’s a whole other kettle of fish — half-siblings. I think I’ll just shut up about that for now.) But I think this was a sad way to remember a life.
Mindy, whose authorly mind is already spinning out stories about this family, and how they lived.