I'm tired today -- drained by a whirlwind 36-hour trip to Iowa for the visitation and funeral services of my Uncle Kenny, who passed away on Sunday after a long goodbye. Kenny had Parkinson's disease, and it slowly enervated his strength and abilities year after year. He was in a coma for some time before his death, and as my mom said, "The stubborn ol' Swede just wouldn't give it up." His death was met with sorrow at losing a part of our family, but also a sense of relief that someone who so richly loved his life while he enjoyed it would no longer be a prisoner to a disease that changed him into someone he was never meant to be.
But, as is somewhat traditional in our family, this visitation was full of laughter through tears. All of Kenny's children were able to make it home from the far corners of the country in time to say goodbye to their father, so the shock of his passing was mitigated by their opportunity to make their farewells. We got to see Myron and his family, who live in Washington state, and Sandra and her husband Jeff, who make their home in Colorado. A stready stream of friends, neighbors, and family made their way through a receiving line where hugs and memories were exchanged. My cousins faithfully arrived throughout the course of the visitation, and we made our way through the queue, ending with the iron strength of my Aunt Tootie (who is, without doubt, one of people I most admire in this world), then retired to a side room where we caught up on one another's lives -- it had, of course, been a long time since our annual Thanksgiving reunion. We laughed about life, and fondly remembered Kenny as a slide show of pictures from his life flashed across a screen.
Afterwards, my parents, my brother and his wife, and my cousin Mary and family all went out for pizza at a local restaurant. Paul, Rich, my dad, my crazy, wonderful cousins (Jon and Lee), and their dad (Tom) sat at one end of the table and listened to my father, Wally the Great Storyteller, pass on joke after joke. Mary, Mom, my brother's wife (Toni), and I oohed and aahed over Mary's new grandbaby brag book (this amazing, incredible, wonderful grandbaby is my new soon-to-be godson, Braden). It was a loud, boisterous, almost raucous evening where we laughed and ate and made plans to travel to Virginia in a month for Braden's baptism. Jon, Paul, and Lee have decided that they don't care about seeing Washington's historical sites -- they're more interested in trying out the DC night life. We laughed and told stories and enjoyed every minute of our time together, even knowing that the next day, we would meet at the church I grew up in to say goodbye to our uncle.
But that's just part of what makes my family so important to me -- we take any opportunity to love each other. We gather together in sickness and in health, in sadness and in joy. That's what makes us family -- we find joy even in our sorrow, and we live knowing that our family is what gives us roots to hold us firm and branches to allow us to touch all the wonderful things in life.