Back in 2009, we started inviting my whole family to have an annual Christmas reunion at our house here in Indiana. When I say "whole" it is no small thing. The total number of people in our house this year? 29:
And not everyone attended. We were missing 5 people from the total tally. My mother kept coming to me, this year, and saying "I don't know how you can stand it - all these people crowded in your house - it would drive me crazy." Ha!
I think if they were all here for two full days, I would probably start getting a bit batty, but the largest family within our ranks (my brother Mark's family of 8) only come from 1-9 on one day, because they simply drive up from Kentucky to join the ranks. The rest either stay in our home or get hotel rooms nearby. I enjoy having them all come and I enjoy the chance to spend time with them in games, laughter, and conversation.
While there weren't as many games this year (we almost always play a card game called Scum - where you try to make it to the position of "president" and avoid the lowest seat of "scum"), we had more time for conversation (partly because we skipped the cousin gift exchange - you can imagine how long that took). At one point, I found myself marveling at the fact that I was sitting at the table with all of my siblings for the first time in a long time and having a shared conversation (often when we visit, with that large of a group, we tend to have one-on-one conversations, instead of group ones).
Some of the conversations were fun and easy: We got to hear about two of the cousins' significant others - what they do and how they met. They listened while I blathered on and on about the novel I wrote in November-December (so much blathering that Trevor came and said, "Are you reading the whole novel to them, Mom? Because it sure feels like it." - Ha!). We talked about good books some of us have read this year and about The Salvation Army's efforts to influence church growth.
Other conversations were more difficult: My sister shared some of her anxieties related to her job. My father shared news about my mother's health. This was perhaps the most difficult conversation we had anticipated. My mother went in for an emergency heart procedure in May and after receiving the anesthesia for that, began developing signs of dementia. We have all been concerned about her steady decline and feel the need to address what that means for the future (especially since my father has a spinal surgery coming up faster than we had realized - January 5th). Living in Florida, as they do, we kids cannot be there to support them regularly.
I was feeling a strong need to know that all plans are in place to ensure that my mother is never left alone (this is perhaps my strongest anxiety because I know that people with dementia can be fine one moment and then in another moment forget where they are and wander off trying to find their spouse). At this time, my father is convinced that she is fine being left alone while he goes on his daily bike rides and to run minor errands. I would prefer that he hire someone to come sit with her in those moments (I understand how vital it is for him to have time for exercise and time for his own pursuits - caregivers often burn out because they do not allot time to pursue their own life).
He also informed us that she has taken her medicine and hidden it (my sister-in-law, who has been down this road with her own parents, said this is a very common thing with dementia patients). We are very concerned that he lock up the medicine and carefully dole out what she needs to take at the moment she needs to take it (rather than allowing her the independence he is desperately trying to provide for her, where she takes a dose and marks it off on a calendar - something which will very quickly prove to be ineffective for someone with dementia).
Of course, hearing about her decline and seeing differences in her (we had the same conversation about a planned trip to a Chinese buffet three or four times; she doesn't interact as much; she seems so very frail physically) is a difficult thing. It brings me to tears. I long for the days when my mother and I could sit and talk about a good book we had both read or give suggestions for things the other person should check out. I know that I will probably never again receive a letter from her.
While I'm exceedingly glad my dad is there for her (and said he plans to live to be 120 - yes, you read that right - a lofty goal for sure), I know that things can happen. He could fall and be unable to get up again. He could have an accident while on his bike. He could suffer a heart attack. All things that would place my mother in a very desperate position. I understand how important it is to maintain life in a similar pace (they still hope to do their visitations - a job they hold visiting retired officers in the South; they still wish to participate in their church activities; they have friends close by), but I know that eventually they will need to be closer to at least one of their children so that we can fill in the supportive role you cannot expect from friends.
Thus, we had some difficult conversations. But, despite the discouragement of having to face those issues, we had a delightful time together. At one point, I brought out a large (and I mean large) ball of Saran Wrap with goodies tucked inside. Those interested in playing formed a large circle and began to unwrap the ball (something they could do until the person next them rolled doubles in a box). At times it was frustrating because the neighbor either rolled doubles too quickly for them to get anything, or they didn't roll doubles for a long time and one person ended up with a majority of the booty. But I think they had fun playing, nonetheless.
Inside the ball, in addition to other various tiny prizes, I had wrapped about 25 balloons. Of course, my sons ended up with some of the balloons and blew theirs up. This led to a game of balloon toss where they desperately avoided the yellow balloon (clearly full of Trevor's saliva - yuck). I think if we play it again next year, I will primarily purchase small chocolates because those seemed to be the biggest hits as prizes.
Trevor reveled in the chance to show all his cousins his great skill at solving several different kinds of Rubik's cubes. One cousin sat and watched him for quite a while and they talked strategies and algorithms. Sean cracked us up with his frequent interjection of "awkward silence."
We felt sad that Bryce and his cousin Kari were both unable to attend because they were on planned vacations with their significant others' families. Kari and Clayton went to the Virgin Islands with his family.
Bryce and Madisyn went to Florida with her family.
I'm sure they both gloried in the sun and good weather, but we did miss having them for the fun and festivities. I received a sweet Facebook message from my youngest brother's son. He wrote to say what a wonderful time he had and that he hoped we could do it again next year (we skipped a year last year and I think everyone missed it - especially my younger boys who look forward to the annual visit of their cousins). The cousins had a blast playing with our Magnatiles and playing some Mafia game together. I'm with Caleb. I hope we can all get together again next year (perhaps without any absentees). Despite the chaos, it is such a blessed event.