Families which try to stay close to each other usually do so by having annual or bi-annual reunions. My dad’s family has tried to gather annually ever since I can remember. Recently we’ve tried to have two reunions, one in the summer and one around Christmas. This year we moved the Christmas one to Thanksgiving.
My gracious nephew, Dr. Cary, and his wife Lorrie, invited the whole clan into their home. Some got hotels, some found niches for air mattresses. They have 40 acres, and we used it! We abused their barn, their four-wheelers and tractors, and every other toy we could find. But in their graciousness, they acted like they thoroughly enjoyed the chaos.
That’s the way it always is. No matter which relative opens his house, there is absolute chaos, and absolute joy. We are glad to be family, and glad to be keeping the tradition alive with the youngsters, letting them meet cousins and other kin they’d never meet without the reunions.
I remember the first year after my dad passed away. I didn’t want to go to a reunion. It seemed wrong, somehow, for us to gather and not have Dad there, because he loved reunions like no one else. But then we thought that it would be wrong not to gather, so we did so in his honor.
This year our Mom was absent. No, she’s not dead. She has simply lost her memory. It rattles her to be away from her little corner of the world. She doesn’t know where she is, and she doesn’t know who we are, and we do her a disservice to take her out of her environment. So we left her in her home. She would not make the long drive well, and she might not ever return mentally to her safe cocoon.
We didn’t speak of it. Not in public, anyway. But it was on our minds. When it came time for the big meal, and my nephew was about to pray, I thanked him and Lorrie on behalf of the family for their hospitality. And I thought about saying something about “Nanny’s great big, wonderful family.” That’s the way she has fondly described us for years. But I hesitated. It would have caused a gush of tears. And my nephew struggled to get through his prayer without cracking as it was, so it was good I didn’t open the door.
It was in all our minds anyway. It didn’t need a public reminder. We looked around that room and silently, in the midst of our joy, there was this hint of sadness at who was NOT there. Even when we speak of next summer’s plans for a family reunion, we know that they will not include Mom. She may be with us still, but she isn’t here.
Each year the absence of one reminds us that we are all fading. One day it will be us who is missing from the reunion. I don’t want to sound morose. I just want to celebrate the here and now. Today, I am here. I will rejoice!