“Why don’t we stay in touch like we say we will?” my best girlfriend, E, wondered aloud over the phone. She and her husband, D, had recently returned from a family funeral in Ohio. And although funerals are not the happiest of circumstances to reconnect with people, if your family is like mine, you find yourself smiling – even laughing – hugging, and chatting up a storm with cousins and family friends over casseroles and cake.
The last time my Dad’s whole side of the family got together was at my Grandma’s funeral – over 10 years ago. We made the trip back to Saginaw, Michigan, about half an hour from Midland where my sister and I had grown up. Most of the rest of the family had stayed in and around Saginaw and its townships after venturing into adulthood; a few moved further away, as my sister and I did. Some went away and came back to mid-Michigan.
We are a large group. When she died, Grandma had 4 children, and 10 grandkids who were all married or otherwise partnered, with their own children – so it seems we multiplied exponentially. But everyone came back for Grandma one last time.
We all met up the first time that week at the funeral home. Family arrived early, before visitation started. Hugs and kisses were shared all around. Exclamations over how big cousins’ kids had become. Talk about how the next two days would play out. Then guests coming to pay their respects began arriving, and it was time to greet friends as they arrived out of the past and into the present.
The day of the funeral went by in a blur. I remember sitting with my sister. I remember driving to the cemetery. But not much in between.
I do remember afterwards.
Not in detail, but in the warmth we all shared. It began as we cousins recalled getting together as kids with our parents and grandparents – usually at Uncle B & Aunt M’s house. My only 2 girl cousins, D & K, are older than me; D by several years, but K by just 1 or 2 and I followed her everywhere when we were kids! We were sitting close now, just like we used to as kids pouring over teen magazines and record jackets and silly girl jokes and whispered secrets. Chairs pulled closer, ties loosened, shoes kicked off, we cousins resurrected funny family stories, some I’d never heard before. We all got happily lost for a little while down that lane as children again.
As it got dark, people needed to hit the road. Children and coats and flowers from the service were gathered; addresses, emails, and phone numbers were exchanged, all with promises to call and keep in touch.
Why don’t we?
We don’t get to have those big crazy family gatherings anymore, we’re all too spread out. It was so much easier when we all lived within an hour of everyone else. And when you have a Matriarch reeling everyone back in on a fairly regular basis. Especially then.
The same dynamic goes for high school and college friends – people move away, create their new lives. Life happens.
Life happens when there’s a wedding. Family and friends are invited from all over. And because it’s a wedding, everyone does their very best to be there. It’s a celebration of Life, and an invitation to those who haven’t been on that most recent part of the Journey to come and catch up and celebrate.
Life happens when there’s a funeral. Family and friends come from all over. I’ve always thought of those services as a celebration of not only the Life lost, but the Lives of everyone who attends the funeral. We are embracing our own lives, and embracing those people who are still with us on this Earth. It doesn’t matter if we saw them 20 years ago or 2 days ago. Funerals make us sad. But they also make us grateful if we let them.
We’ve all walked into a wedding or funeral or reunion with apologies on our lips for not being better at keeping in touch since the “last time.” But I’m starting to believe it’s not necessary to apologize. We’ve all been there, done that, and sometimes that’s just the way it is. When you’re at different stages of life all at different times, it’s just plain hard to connect regularly. No excuses needed: that’s Life.
I very happily hear from my 2 “girl” cousins via Facebook every once in a while, and get to see pictures of their families. And they are MARVELOUS cheerleaders from afar! I’m so thankful for Facebook at those times and so many more. I consider it a small window into the lives of people for whom I care, who are spread out all over the world. I feel that way about texts and emails, too (except for those missives from those foreign prince friends, needing me to go to the bank and wire them money; really, guys – get a credit card!).
If Christmas cards are the height of what is manageable, I feel lucky to be on your list! And I will genuinely exclaim at how big the kids have gotten, and ooh and ahh gleefully over the new furry member of the family. And I will stop for a moment and wish we could get together for a glass of wine, or a walk on a beach, or sit around and recall fond memories in person. But I won’t guilt-trip you by saying “why don’t we get together more often?” I’m grateful to have been thought of at such a crazy time of year. And should the opportunity arise to meet up, we’ll take it from there!
I might very well be near a device with an actual keypad (I write/type like I talk: in more than 140 characters for sure), and send a message/email/text telling you I just received your card and thank you so much I miss you and how are you? and you’ll know I’m thinking of you.
If you don’t get that message, please know that if you took the time to send me a card or photo, text or email, FB message or missive by carrier pigeon, I am feeling very grateful that you are in my life but am up to my eyeballs in Life at this end. I know you’ll understand and think to yourself, “no apologies needed.”
Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!