Sadly, the reason that drew about 40 of us together was my aunt’s illness, which is apparently terminal. Aunt Dolores is my mom’s older sister, and we all know her as Dee. She has a variety of cancer called “oat cell” that is aggressive, and it is in her lungs and liver. Other spots are turning up here and there in her body. She is almost 80, but she wants to try the chemotherapy treatments. She is starting on those, and as a result she gets tired easily, and her hair is falling out… but she remains in the best of spirits, and she is always an optimist. Supposedly only 2% of people with this kind of cancer survive, but Dee plans to be one of that 2%!
My late father was an only child, as I also am. There aren’t any Snave relatives from my dad’s side of the family besides me, my wife Kit, and my two daughters. On my mom’s side, there is her older sister (Dee), her younger sister, and her younger brother. Dee has two sons and a daughter; those three cousins of mine are between the ages of 56 and 61 years old. Cousin Lynn has a son and a daughter; the daughter has two small children, and the son is married without children. Cousin Bob lives with Dee and with his young teenage son. Cousin Marc is married, and has a daughter who is in her late 20s, from an earlier marriage. My mom’s younger sister is the mom to two more cousins; one is about 45 (he has lived in Germany for the last 20 years and was not at the reunion) and the other is 43 and a single mom of an adorable, moody little five-year-old daughter. My mom’s younger brother has a daughter who is a couple years younger than me, and she was unable to attend. Anyway, Lynn and Marc set up the reunion as a way to celebrate Dee’s 80th birthday. Dee isn’t officially going to be 80 until next February, but due to her health circumstances, the celebration date was moved up.
The party took place at a beautiful old lakeside resort. The facilities were rustic, and it was very nice. There were boat rides, a horseshoe pit (any of you ever play horseshoes? It’s a blast!), a Karaoke machine (yes, I got a bit oiled and belted out some rock and roll tunes), and so much great food I wasn’t able to feel “un-full” all weekend.
Dee did well throughout the festivities. She was able to keep her energy level high enough to participate and to enjoy. It looked like there was an opportunity for tensions, as Lynn’s ex-husband was there, and Bob’s ex-wife attended. My uncle Bob, who has been divorced from Dee for at least 20 years, even made it. There are other members of the family who are pissed at each other, but Dee means so much to everyone that all gloves came off and the level of civility was remarkable. Everybody had a great time!
My mom had a tough time during the festivities, particularly when cousin Marc got up and did his “MC” thing. People took turns telling stories about Dee, and Mom was teary-eyed throughout. Being without Dad has been hard enough on her, and Dee is her closest sibling (their birthdays are only about 10 months apart). Mom is still having some issues with grief. It gave me some pause to stop and consider a bit about how I have been dealing with Dad’s death (he passed last August).
Marc, Lynn and Kit and I were sitting in the resort office, talking, after everyone else had left. I told them that while my dad has gone, and while I miss him dearly and wish he was still here, he really is still here in certain ways. For example, whenever I am in the mountains I tend to think about Dad, and I am glad he was around to teach me how to appreciate nature when I was just little. Dad and I were different in lots of ways, but there were some ways in which we were very much alike and in which we were deeply connected. I told Marc and Lynn that when I want to “bring Dad back”, I am able to do it with memories. I told them about how Dad had taken me on a 14-mile round trip day-hike to a remote lake when I was only 11 years old, and how despite all that walking I loved just about every minute of it. As I told Marc and Lynn, “That was a great day.”
There are so many things like that great day with Dad that I can conjure up when I am feeling the hurt. I know my dad lives in me, in Kit and in my children, as well as in the memories of all those who were there to see Dee. When other family members see me, Kit and our girls, it helps them think about my dad in a positive way. They see how my children have grown into young adults, and they see how I have matured through the years. Dad may not have been able to make it to the reunion for Dee, but I was damned proud to be his representative.
Marc told me that what I said pretty much summed it up: there are a lot of great days. We all had a couple of great days this weekend. We all need to create more opportunities for these great days to happen while we are here on Earth, whether or not it is to basically pay our last respects to a dear family member. Their mom, my “Auntie” Dee, may not live very much longer, but after the inevitable happens, she will live through her kids and through their kids. I will think of her and her unconditional love for us all whenever I think of her three kids (Marc, Lynn and Bob) and their children, and their children’s children.
Auntie Dee never lived very close to me when I was growing up, but I was always overjoyed to see her. She always had Life Savers for me. She will always be my Life Saver lady.
Family is just too precious to put aside. If you have family hatchets out, it is always time to bury those hatchets. If you think you are too busy to spend much quality time with your family, then you probably are too busy and you need to reset your priorities. I want to help create a lot more “great days” in my life and the lives of all my family members. Life is short, and in today’s world, pleasures can be few. I find no greater pleasure than time spent with loved ones.