The holidays have arrived and passed, and we all, once again, had to deal with the entire arsenal of relatives who range from racists to uber-religious to overly-interested-in-our-love-lives. I bet most of us are thankful that this awkward gathering of people who are not anything like us is over; however, I would like everyone to take a step back and think about something for a moment: Do you love/care deeply for these relatives? The way we talk about meetings with the family makes it seem like we could live our lives without them, but they are still your family. How would your life be different if they were gone, or what would you do if they suddenly fell terminally ill?

After Thanksgiving this year, two such relatives of mine have had a series of unfortunate events that have led to the discovery of lung and brain cancer in one and prostate cancer in the other. These two relatives of mine are the kind I only see once or twice a year. We haven’t had a real relationship other than “Hey!” “Hi!” “How’s school?” “Good.” “Got a girlfriend?” “No/Yes.” “What are your plans for the future?” “Still want to be an author and a journalist.” “That’s fantastic. “Yup.” You know, the usual talk we all know comes along with these awkward gatherings. These relatives and I have varying opinions on political, world, and other topics, but they have never truly done any harm to me. I’ve lived my life just really not caring about seeing them; they haven’t made a big impact on my life or been a significant part of who I am. They are just background characters to the story of my life, but they are still part of my family.

Hearing this news left me really confused. Not only have I never encountered a cancer situation (thankfully) in my life before, but I didn’t know how to properly feel. That sounds terrible, I know. My relatives have both been simultaneously diagnosed with cancer, and I wasn’t immediately sad. I just didn’t know how to feel. They are my family, but they weren’t members of my family who were there for me growing up. Why should I necessarily be sad? Yes, it is unfortunate and I would never wish cancer upon anyone, especially family and friends, but why should I be sad?

I never really paid much attention to them at family parties. I gave them the traditional nephew courtesy of hugging them, telling them about my life, and wishing them a good year, but I, for the most part, avoided them when I could as I am not particularly fond of those conversations. Now these two people who reside on my family tree are not doing so well, and I don’t feel particularly sad about it, and, in turn, feel real shitty about not being sad about it.

So, I pose this question for all of you: do you love/care deeply about your version of these types of relatives? If even in the slightest, don’t try to avoid them and indulge them in the traditional courtesies. Be thankful not for seeing them only once or twice a year but because you get to see them at all in a year. Regardless of who they mean to you or their impact on their life, be kind to them, as you can never predict what life will change for you unexpectedly. Although my relatives are still alive and I hope they fight and beat these cancers miraculously, I never expected this type of sickness to befall either of them, and I feel terrible about my reaction to it. I wish I was a little more happy and grateful for the time’s I got to see them.

Although your relatives may not understand who you are or your beliefs, as long as they are not harming you in any shape or form, be grateful for them being in good health and in a position to come to your family gatherings as you never know which one will be their last.