Family: our first and most important connection

Photo by Malin K

I have been watching the news showing Ukrainian families fleeing their homeland. Fear and uncertainty are written on their faces.

Where will they go? How will they live? Which country will take them in?

Most importantly, will they ever be able to go home again? Unfortunately, we have witnessed this tragedy play out many times, families being torn apart and then scattered all over the world.

These uncertain feelings and questions must have also been on my parent’s minds when we escaped Hungary so very many years ago. Deciding to leave everyone and everything behind must have been a traumatic and heartbreaking decision to make. As difficult as it was, it had to be made because, at that time, the only thing that mattered was the safety of the family

I was only eight when we made our escape and I did not fully comprehend what was happening. My parents only told my sister and me the very minimum about what was happening. They told us that we would be in danger until we arrived in Switzerland. In the end, we were lucky: we made it to freedom and a new life.

Moving into a different culture and environment was easier for my sister and me because we were like empty sponges —able to absorb a new language and a different way of living. Through all our difficulties, we relied on each other which also strengthened our family bond.

As I grew older and better understood what a family unit is, I became aware that our foursome was missing important components. We were incomplete. When I looked at the families of my friends, I realized that I was missing grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

These missing family members became important to me after my parents passed away and my sister moved to California. For the first time in my life, I felt completely alone. Friends certainly helped but there was an emptiness inside me.

Schooling in my mother tongue was almost non-existent, so my reading and writing were rudimentary at best. Nevertheless, I reached out to my uncle and told him I wanted to come for a visit. I also asked — if possible — while I was there: could I meet the rest of my extended family? His response was a resounding “yes,” so I began to make travel plans for my trip back to the country of my birth.

I was nervous when I arrived in Budapest and wondered if my decision to stay with strangers had been well thought out. I need not have worried because as soon as I walked through the airport gate, I was welcomed by my family. When I saw my uncle, I was amazed to see how much he resembled my father. The way he looked, the way he talked and even the way he acted was all so familiar to me.

My cousin and I hit it off right away. It was uncanny to find out that our likes and dislikes were so similar. Over the next two weeks, I would meet many more of my relatives.

Some of them were easy to get to know and talk to, while others differed greatly from my outlook on life. When I returned home, I realized just how much my sister and I had missed. I also wished I had listened more intently when my parents talked about their childhood and their families

Recently my niece Michelle and I went on a small driving holiday to Radium Hot Springs, my first travel adventure since COVID-19. She and I have travelled together several times and it was great to finally be together again. We had a lot to catch up on and it felt good to laugh and remember silly things from our past holidays.

On my return home I received an extraordinary notification. When I opened Facebook, I saw a letter from a relative I did not know I had. She introduced herself as the wife of a cousin of mine and said she found me through an ancestry program.

I have seen people on TV who have also found relatives on such programs. Their re-unions, sometimes decades apart, are always very heartwarming. Their touching embrace and tearful greetings fill me with empathy as I participate in their happy moment. 

Since our first meeting via Facebook, my newly found relative and I, have exchanged family photos, family information and even a typewritten family tree. This family tree goes back to the 1700s and is full of names of people reaching far back into my past.

All these names and dates have given me pause. Probably just as everyone else, I have wondered about those who came before me, but to see it all written down on paper, is hard to take in. Now that I know them by name, I wonder what they were like? How had they lived?

Things I will never know. Now I can see where I’ve come from and perhaps in the future, someone will add my name to this list of people. It is fascinating to think about them, and with Google Earth, I can look up the towns where they lived.

These names fascinate me. To reach back three hundred years is quite an achievement. But as far back as this goes, I now wish it would go even further.

Maybe between my new cousin and me, we will manage to delve further into our misty long-ago past.