Everyone has pet peeves, whether it’s people who wear socks with their sandals, drivers who don’t use a signal to turn, or that one student who feels the need to prolong class time by asking stupid questions. You know who I’m talking about. As for me, I hated it when guys would come up to me and ask, “Hey, what’s up bro?” First of all, I’m not your “bro.” We’re not even related; I do have a name, you know. It’s Gio. Use it.
In college, it was bound to happen. Every guy has the potential to become a “bro.” Now, I’m not talking about the Urban Dictionary definition, which defines a “bro” as “obnoxious partying males who are often seen at college parties.” I’m talking about the commonly used greeting of a male to another male in order to indicate a sense of friendship. After hearing it so often, I found myself using it. I use it in my daily speech when I speak to another guy around my age. I even use it so much, that perhaps, I’m someone else’s pet peeve. Little did I know how the word would be essential to my survival, to my process of grieving.
You see, when you lose two siblings, your identity also changes. It just has to; you’re forced to. I was the oldest of three, then two, and now I’m the “only child.” Is that what I call myself now? An only child? It is, after all, fact. An “only child” is one who has no siblings. That’s what I am now, right? Yes, and no. I’ve grieved over the lost of my siblings, but I am not sibling-less. And if you’re going through what I’ve gone through, you need to understand that.
Sociologists have a term for it: fictive kin. Thanks to Wikipedia, we know that a fictive kin is simply “giving someone a kinship title and treating them in many ways as if they had the actual kinship relationship implied by the title.” Now, I should get used to the practice. I am, in fact, Asian. And Asians are notorious for indicating a familial relationship when there is no genetic or marriage ties. In most Asian cultures, especially in Indonesian ones, you would call an older male and female who are around your parents’ ages and are close friends of theirs as “uncle” and “aunt.” Their children would be your “cousins.” Let’s just say it was confusing growing up, keeping track of which of my hundreds of “uncles” and “aunts” were actually related to me, and which of my “cousins” I could date.
Fictive kins relationships are essential for one’s survival. One such example of its importance can be found in American history. During America’s slavery period, it was common practice for slave owners to separate slave families in order to control them. Parents would be separated from their children and siblings would be separated from each other as they were divided to different plantations. In an act of human survival, to maintain that human sense of family, it was also common for strangers to become a family. An older slave woman would take in a slave child as her own. Slave children would call each other as “brother” or “sister.” Fictive kin relationships provided slaves with a symbolic family, as each person supported one another.
You see, saying “bro” makes perfect natural sense for Christians. If we’re all part of God’s family, then we’re all brothers and sisters in and through Christ, His Son. As the greeting goes: Hey brother from another mother. And I guess, that’s how I’ve chosen to survive and to maintain my “older brother” identity. Yes, by societal standards, I am every bit an “only child.” But in a larger and deeper sense, I have a lot of brothers and sisters. They may not be my flesh and blood family, but they act in every bit like a sibling should. Do I argue or fight with my “brothers” and “sisters?” Sure, that’s something that siblings do. But we also enjoy each other’s company. And when I find that I need some lifting up when I am depressed, I know my “brothers” and “sisters” are there to help me out, and vice versa. The result is fictive kinships are relationally deeper than friendships.
As for me, I no longer mind being called a “bro.” I welcome it. I love it. When I hear it, I am not reminded by what I’ve lost–I am reminded by what I’ve gained. I also don’t need to put a close sibling-type relationship in quotes, as they are now my kin. Maybe you’ve joined a fraternity or sorority and have gained new brothers and sisters–more than you can imagine. Maybe you’re in a college club or ministry and have grown so close to certain people that they’re practically family. Maybe you don’t work with your co-workers, you hang out with them after work and they too, have become part of your symbolic family.
In fact, just the other day I lost an arm wrestling match to my fourteen-year-old brother. And I realized that in a couple years, he will grow taller than me. Just the other day, I saw my eighteen-year-old sister, and I saw how much she’s changed spiritually. And just today, I saw a picture of a New Year’s dinner party. I saw that I’m still the oldest of five brothers.
So how about you? Do you have fictive kin? Are you someone’s fictive kin? What do you do to grieve and survive the loss of a loved one?