Early in 2015, as we do every year, Jason and I started discussing our travel plans for the summer. Being so far north of everyone we want to visit, we usually have to be pretty choosy about which events we can work in.
High on the priority list were my family reunion (on my dad's side) and 20-year high school reunion. Since these were taking place only a week apart and only a few hour's drive apart, it was only logical that if we did one, we would do both, and take the week between to visit our family and friends in central Alberta as well. That would constitute the bulk of our travel plans for the year.
Even so, back in March we weren't sure we would be able to make it work. But, thanks to someone that really really wanted us to get there, we did. (I'm sure they don't want public credit, but you know who you are. Thank you.)
Of course, back then we were excited that family members who had not yet been able to meet Levi would finally have the chance, just as we would get to meet the small children that had been welcomed to the family since our last reunion.
I guess Levi's going to have to wait a while longer to meet his second cousins.
As the time for our departure neared, I felt anxious--would I be able to handle all the visiting? Jason and I are a couple of introverts, and our tolerance and stamina are drastically lowered right now. Would I be able to handle talking about Levi so much? Or not talking about him if people didn't ask?
On top of that, there was a certain amount of dread for the drama that I expected to ensue at our family reunion, as this was the first time many of the family would see my sibling present as my sister instead of my brother. I worried about that, about whether she would feel welcome, about the possible tearing of relationships.
I worried about being the person in the middle trying to make peace and educate and explain when I have so few reserves of my own left. Most days, I feel like this:
But, since everything is pretty much a day at a time right now, and I realistically don't have a whole lot of time and energy to expend on worrying between all that I spend on grieving, the worry didn't consume too much thought.
And we got through the trip one day at a time.
Some days were wonderful. Some we were just exhausted. So honestly, there wasn't a whole lot of visiting that happened in the middle of the week.
I already shared about how much I enjoyed my school reunion.
My family reunion was really fantastic for the most part. It was populated with relatives from my paternal grandparents' down. Both of my grandparents are getting acquainted with Levi, but the legacy they left behind on earth is truly amazing. Nine surviving children with their spouses, and all of their children (most with spouses), and many of those with children--I didn't add it up, but I am pretty sure that around fifty of us made it. There was only a small handful who didn't.
For a large family, we are tight-knit. While I was growing up as the oldest of Emil and Martha's grandchildren, we had family events four times a year. At the time, only two of my uncles and their families lived at too distant a remove to join us, but they were always with us in spirit--Grandma made sure that we all remembered them. They all participated in the yearly Christmas gift exchange, so even if we didn't see them, we were buying gifts for each other.
Grandma died in 1998, and Grandpa in 2005. My generation grew up and has been finding spouses and having kids, and that has resulted in a bit of a Hilman family diaspora--kids find spouses elsewhere, and then sometimes the parents move to be close to them, especially once their grandkids start showing up. This past weekend was the first time I have seen some of my family members in person since Grandpa's funeral in 2005, when I was only weeks away from giving birth to Jabin.
None of us like it, being so far apart. Yes, we all love our communities and where we live, but we are not a family that dispersed because there was nothing that held us together. We followed our dreams and passions with the freedom of knowing that no matter where in the world we go, our family has got our backs. We had a little "service" on Sunday morning that was really a commemoration of all that holds us together in this bond of love, the reasons that so many of us made the effort to come from near and far for this reunion.
Most of us were a weeping mess by the end. It was awesome.
I got told many times last weekend how much I remind my family of my Grandma. Yes, I resemble her some.
But people were also referring to her industry, her attitude, and her heart.
My grandma is one of my heroes, so these comments meant a great deal to me.
Grandma had nine surviving children, but after her first, she lost two--one was stillborn, and one died at 18 months (of illness, I believe.) Unfortunately, that means that most of the siblings never got to meet him. But they know of him. I have thought about that a lot this summer, about how Grandma must have borne those babies in her heart until she died. About how glad she must have been to finally see her other two children again.
I also learned something new about Grandma on Sunday. She came from a pretty rough background, the kind that could have easily made her into someone hard and bitter and spiteful. But instead, she searched out the gospel--shooting squirrels and selling their tails until she had enough money to purchase some Sunday School study material which she hid in the fireplace flu so her father wouldn't find it. And eventually she met and married Grandpa and felt like she had come home.
I had no idea that she had endured that upbringing. The woman I knew was kind, gentle, good-hearted, loving, and more. But I see now the surviving spirit that enabled her to get through that kind of childhood, and bring up eight boys and a girl on a busy, big farm, and to love on each of her eighteen grandkids like they were the only one she had. And why it was so important to her that our family be held together by love. And I know she would give all the credit to her faith in Jesus.
Grandma was always singing while she worked, and the song she sang most often (in my memory) was "One Day at a Time."
I've been singing that song a lot this summer. And thinking of Grandma.
And when people ask me how I'm doing (as so many did on our trip, really wanting to know), that's my response, because it's true. I really can only take one day at a time right now. And that day is filled with moments where I am weak, and sad, and not at my best. It is only through the grace of God that that day can be surmounted at all.
I am so thankful for the legacy my grandparents left behind, the one that their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids are continuing. My cousins, their kids, my uncles and aunts--they are all amazing people, ones who know how to love deeply, because they have been shown how. And even though there was a little drama, and the visiting was draining, it was all done in the spirit of love--and that's why we came in the first place.
Love. Faith. Family. These values will be forever intertwined in my mind. And each one, while grand in theme, can really only be made tangible through individual choices, small acts carried out in small ways each and every day. They are built or destroyed one day at a time.
So this weekend was a good reminder--have I built up my faith today? Edified my family? Shown someone precious how much I love them?