I don’t even quite know how to put into words how wonderful it is to spend time with family.

My cousin Lynne is graciously hosting us, and is introducing us to other family members. It’s really a wonderful experience, and I’m excited about the days ahead!

As part of the tour, Lynne took us to meet Mum’s cousins, Joan and Bert, yesterday, in a little town called Ballymena. Joan and her brother Bert are Mum’s cousins on Mum’s father’s side. We talked the whole afternoon, then went out for “tea” (dinner) and carried on talking until we all nearly dropped.

Joan, I should mention, is now 87 years old, and Bert is 80. Joan is only a few days older than Mum was, born on August 13 while Mum was born on August 31, in 1928. Bert is seven years younger, so he doesn’t really remember anything of Mum, but he’s lived an interesting, world-travelling life, and is a lot of fun to chat with, too.

The last time Joan saw Mum was back in 1938, when they were ten years old.

That year, Mum moved from being just around the corner from Joan’s and Bert’s house in Belfast down to Rostrevor to live with her Aunt Minnie, her mother’s sister, after Mum’s mother passed away from breast cancer. Uncle Ray, Mum’s older brother, went too, but he joined up with the navy (he lied about his age when the war started and joined up early), so he was only there for a little time.

Joan never knew what had happened to Mum, and yet they had been the best of friends as young children. She was very interested in the brief synopsis I was able to give her, and it really got me thinking about the value of the communication tools we have now that let us stay in touch regardless of distance or time zones. It was so hard to stay connected with family in other countries back then, and the disconnection that happened seems to have been a very common occurrence. The same thing happened with my Dad and his family in England, too, when Dad moved to Canada.

Not a loss of love; just a loss of contact.

It was quite something to hear Joan saying she remembers when Mum and Uncle Ray lived only a few doors away from her, and when Mum’s family moved around the corner into a slightly more posh neighbourhood. She remembers playing with them, and having all sorts of fun before Mum’s mum died. Everything changed after that.

She remembers her Auntie Annie’s funeral in 1936 (Annie was my grandmother), and later being quite afraid of the awful housekeeper Mum’s dad had hired to look after Mum and Uncle Ray. She corroborated Mum and Uncle Ray’s assertions that Miss Irving, the housekeeper, was a horrible woman, very stern and unkind, and Joan steered clear of her as much as she could. She remembers the feeling of loss when Mum and Uncle Ray eventually moved away to their Aunt Minnie’s place in the country.

Little did any of them know they’d never see each other again.

Funny enough, Lynne and I both feel like Mum and Uncle Ray are hanging out here with us and enjoying the visit, too. Yesterday, a parcel arrived for Lynne with a purchase she’d made, and in it was also a keyring-sized stuffed monkey that came as a little bonus with her purchase. To our surprise, it has a little nametag on it that says “Ray.” Curious, Lynne dug out and looked at another one she’d gotten with another, earlier purchase from the same company, and, would you believe it, it’s name is “Dorothy,” my mum’s name.

That could be almost creepy, but it actually comes down on the side of comforting and amazing!

There’s another neat piece to the story.

Both Bert and Joan adopted kids, just like Mum did. They clearly consider adopted kids every much a full part of the family as blood relations. They instantly welcomed Jeff and me as family members, practically before we were even in the door; it’s amazing to feel so much warmth and affection from them, towards us who were otherwise strangers as we walked into their home.

How cool is that?

Family is an amazing thing.