Ask a care manager: What is a family?
After a number of years we’re having a family reunion. In fact, having attended several of these throughout 35-plus years, we volunteered to help host this year’s event. It will be here before we know it.
The interesting thing that this brings up is what is a family? It started easily enough. We would invite any/all of the family who had the same family name. That was the easy part. Then, of course, those adult children, a number of whom had been retired for years and have grown children, grown grandchildren and great-grandchildren of various ages — a large family initially with nine children. The parents of this family are both gone but were part of large families as well, nine children on each side so cousins, aunts and uncles all over.
As phone calls went back and forth between the two youngest brothers of this aging family, it became pretty evident that they didn’t want to leave out anyone for this gathering, a first time in seven years. Since the last reunion in 2007 there would be two brothers and an older sister who wouldn’t be there due to their deaths. However, their offspring needed to be notified.
As with most families some keep in touch better than others. In this family the issues were who to contact, trying to find them and then finding a way to send the invitation. The Facebook page was helpful and e-mails began going out always with forwarding instructions to others who might be interested. Several phone calls into the process, it became evident that some of the older family members hadn’t made the technological leap into computers, e-mail and social media. In one case, a cousin had his son call with his e-mail address since the father didn’t have e-mail at all. Others (usually the younger generation) made quick suggestions about how to give directions, offer suggestions about places to stay and of course GPS so no one would get lost coming to the reunion.
There were questions about the airport as one of the grandsons who shared custody with an ex-wife was making arrangements to pick up his son so he could meet family he’d either never met or hadn’t seen since he was a toddler. Some of the younger children, cousins to one degree or another, had never met and had all kinds of questions. A 9-year-old granddaughter had her grandmother stumped when she asked how there were “first cousins” and “second cousins” since she’d never met any of them before. A lesson in genealogy made simple helped.
As the day got closer, the brothers and their wives had conference calls long distance comparing notes about who was coming and what they had heard about extended family that wanted to be part of the group. Cousins were coming in a motorhome caravan from the central coast with their children and grandchildren and camping near the site. These were the same cousins that had gathered for family gatherings near Bakersfield for years as their hardworking parents, aunts and uncles took time to have family reunions often since the rest of the family had remained in Oklahoma. In those days visits to another state, especially one so far away, were expensive and rare. So this family kept close to those who had made the move to California.
For those of us in this family either by birth or marriage, the relationships and company were important. There were others however who hadn’t been born into the family or married into it but were considered an important part of the family. So invitations went out to the extended family — a grandson with his mother, a granddaughter close to some of the family but estranged with others and in-laws from all sides who had stood by the family through thick and thin. After all wasn’t that what family was all about?
Thinking back to when the last gathering was, it seemed that in the past few years the only time the family met was at a funeral. There were a few weddings interspersed in between but with the death of both parents and now three of the siblings, those notifications seemed all too often. At least with this gathering, it would be a happier occasion.
I have to think that the spirits of the long-deceased parents and three of their nine children will be very present at the reunion. As we gather underneath the large spreading oaks in the hot Sierra foothill summer, their descendants, their family will greet one another, hug a grandchild, meet a new member of the family, miss the ones who couldn’t attend and grieve those gone.
Before long this event will be over with only memories to carry us forward. With the ages of the remaining siblings as they are, it’s quite possible that for some it will be the last reunion. Life is the path all people follow knowing that others do go before us. Although as most families do, we all struggle with issues important and miniscule, we’re a family.
Note: The two brothers in this family worried initially that no one would come to the reunion. Now they worry they’ve ordered enough food, tables and chairs. You see, it seems that a lot of people are coming. It will be a family celebration to remember.
Carol S. Heape, MSW, CMC is CEO of Elder Options, Inc. setting the standard for care managed home care since 1988 and serving the Sacramento Region; elderoptionsca.com.