It's All Relative

Family love is complicated, messy and sometimes painful – but always worth keeping if you have it

Those of us who grew up closeted in rural America often have some pretty complicated relationships with family.

Visiting at my aunt and uncle’s house in Kentucky this past weekend, I sat in the living room looking out the same front window that I’ve looked out ever since I was a toddler. The house sits atop a hill looking over the fields that have been farmed by the Bugg family for more than 150 years. I’ve often written about my own personal sense of loss that I’m not a larger part of that ongoing history — that my being gay presented me with a set of choices that, if I were to live honestly and openly, precluded me from being a larger part of it, even if I’m happy with the choices I made.

But what I’m feeling now is a sense of gain and belonging that’s rather bittersweet.

My uncle, Tucker, died last week, less than a month after the family discovered he had an aggressive liver cancer. His death was a shock, even at 73, given that he’s been more active at that age than most 40-year-olds I know.

While losing someone from the family fabric is felt most keenly by those closest to the space left behind, Tucker’s passing was felt throughout my hometown. I’ve honestly never seen anything like the visitation on Sunday night, when people waited up to two hours in a line that snaked through all the rooms of the funeral home to share their condolences with my aunt and cousins. It sets the bar pretty high when I think about what it means to be a part of your community, no matter where your community may be.

Of course, the bar has always tended to be set pretty high within the Bugg family. I was laughing with my cousin that even if you have a pretty normal, fairly successful life, it doesn’t take much to feel like a black sheep among the Buggs. Expectations weren’t always overt in my family, but they were always implied and always pulling at me, no matter how far I tried to get from my upbringing. But, once a Bugg, always a Bugg.

As I’ve gotten older that’s become more important to me — that my name be something more than simply an easy-to-remember byline for a writer who wants to stand out in the crowd. Even if I was never in any danger of becoming a farmer — and if I had, Tucker would have laughed that I’d’ve been a danger to everyone else — I’m still proud to be a part of that century-and-a-half of history.

The love I have for my family is the most complicated love I’ve ever had. It’s ebbed and flowed over time; I’ve tried to run from it, I’ve tried to ignore it, I’ve tried to control it. But I’ve only come to understand that I’ll never be able to do any of those things. I can only accept family love for the big, messy, complicated thing that it is, at times full of laughter, sometimes with anger, and sometimes with sadness.

It will never be easy, for me or them, because I just wasn’t born at the right time for it to be easy. But as the saying goes, nothing that’s worth it ever is.

Email Sean Bugg at ; follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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