One Removed

A few months ago, maybe longer, some article started popping up in various feeds, or maybe it was just a graphic. Really, the way we (or at least I) receive news is messing with our retention, I absolutely believe this. And I’m not the only one; I heard an attorney/journalist talking about wondering if news she hears today she already knew about last week but can’t quite place it.
Anyway, this one slice of information that showed up just described familial relationships, explaining all those third-cousin-twice-removed connections that nobody else understands. I know I don’t, even though I just now found a picture that seems to explain it.
And at some point it ends up in the ancestry game, something I’m not interested in at all. I understand the interest of others; it’s a fun hobby, and slide in some history and you can find some stories if you’re inclined. I’m just not, particularly.
There also seems to be some significant evidence that these sort of long-distance relations are irrelevant in any meaningful way once we get past a couple of generations. I can draw a line, in other words, from my great-great-great-grandfathers to me, but as far as genetics are concerned it doesn’t really affect me. Just a curiosity.
I found out something interesting, though, back whenever I first noticed this topic trending. To simplify, I know that my father’s brother is my uncle, and his daughter is my cousin. First cousin, actually, but we don’t need to qualify. Cousins. We know.
I also know that my uncle’s uncle is my great-uncle. Again, pretty obvious. And that great-uncle’s child is, of course, my uncle’s (and my father’s) first cousin. What I didn’t know is that my father’s first cousin is my first cousin, once removed. I guess I always assumed it was my second cousin (which would actually be my father’s cousin’s child).
Enough, then. You’re either interested in this stuff or you’re not. Me, not so much.
But I noticed something that I was completely unaware of, coming from a small family (one uncle, two aunts, and between them four cousins): My cousin’s daughter, for example, is my first cousin, once removed, but colloquially (and I assume this comes up in larger families) would usually be referred to as my niece.
I like this. I don’t know my cousins very well, since they’re so few in number and spread out. I’ve met most of their children, but that’s it. Just a hello. It seems that if I were to think of them as nieces and nephews, I’d maybe make more of an effort to learn about them, get to know them a little from a distance. Their great-grandparents were my grandparents; we’re family.
I just think it would be nice to think of my cousin’s daughter as not some never-met, never-known stranger, but as my niece.
But I won’t. And I can’t.
My cousin’s daughter was murdered a month ago, although the body has yet to be recovered. The suspect was arrested the other day, though, after a long investigation in which everyone was told to stay quiet. My niece was just missing. People were asked to be aware, to be on the lookout. But they knew she was dead.
Knew. My cousin. My aunt, this poor young woman’s grandmother, with whom she lived most of her life and apparently viewed as a parent figure. They knew, and maybe the writing had been on the wall; this kid had been in trouble a few times, with some troubling associations. Old story.
Murdered by a gun, but again: Old story. Guns are quick and available. You can make the argument that they’re too quick and too available, but that’s pretty irrelevant here. I’m all for sensible gun control, for background checks, mandatory gun safety classes, waiting periods, etc. A lot of this we have. We could certainly do better and not infringe on responsible people, but again: I think irrelevant in this case. I have reasons to think that; not going to get into details.
I never met her, this young woman who in another life I might have thought of as my niece. Her pictures resemble her mother at the same age, in a striking way.
And so I’m left here, not grieving as much as feeling the sorrow of the loss, the sorrow I can’t even imagine, the sorrow of family members I don’t see very often, and wondering if I shouldn’t try harder to change that.

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