Today was the day of the Memorial Service for my aunt who passed away back in February. She had been married to one of my dad's brothers and as a kid, they lived about eight miles from where I live.
They had three children -two sons and a daughter. The boys were about 10 and 12-13 years older than me so growing up, I knew them but wasn't especially close, you could say to them. The daughter though -was a year older than me and when I was between five years old and about 10-11 years old, I often spent the night or even a couple of days at their home. (That lasted until one night I woke up in the middle of the night, homesick as all get out and sobbing! The only way I could go back to sleep was to go and sleep in another room with my Dad's youngest sister -the aunt who died back the end of April! Why that happened to me is still a mystery because I was not really young, I'd stayed there on numerous occasions before plus I always went every summer and spent two or three weeks at a clip with my Mom's older sister and her husband and they lived much further away too. But after that episode -which woke both my aunt and uncle up, of course, and both of them had to get up early that morning to get ready for work too which didn't exactly give me brownie points with my uncle then, I think he was afraid the same thing might happen again and cause him to lose a good night's sleep.
That uncle died back in December of 1981 and the following fall, the oldest son died quite suddenly. The second son -who looked so much like my dad that he could almost have been a clone -was killed in an auto accident. Add to that, the daughter and her spouse had moved to Texas around 1970 I think, as had the second son, so today, at the Memorial service, the second son's first wife was there and it was the first I had seen her since either 1981 or maybe, 1982. Unfortunately, her two daughters, who both live in Texas too, were unable to get back to Pennsylvania for the service today. I had hoped they would be able to come in as I hadn't seen them since their grandfather's funeral in 1981 and I remember them fairly well from when they were babies and small children as they were often around my aunt and uncle's home too when I was young.
It was such a nice service though - the Pastor of that church read some scriptures, offered some prayers, we sang some of my aunt's favorite hymns and the Pastor then read two letters - one written by the second son's daughters -who were unable to be here -and the other written by the daughter, my cousin, telling about my aunt -their grandmother, their mother. And though the letters were full of love and sentiment, they also included humor in them of funny things that happened over the years. That inclusion was just the perfect touch to make the service what my aunt had wanted - laid-back, casual and along the lines more of a reunion, not exactly a time of grieving.
My Dad's family was a large family -they had ten children but one died as an infant. However, considering a family that size, there were only 21 grandchildren -and ten of those were all from my oldest uncle's family! Out of that number (21), there are 15 of us still living. There are lots and lots of great-grandchildren now and a large and still growing number of great-great-grandkids too -descendants of my grandparents.
B ack in 2000, I attended a reunion held by my cousins -children of my oldest uncle -but it was supposed to also serve as a general family reunion. At that event, all nine of his remaining children and their spouses were there, along with almost, if not all, of the grandchildren, plus oodles of great-grands and beyond that. The total attendance at that reunion was 126 people and of that number, only three were NOT linked back to tht particular uncle's branch of our tree! I grew up not knowing any of those ten cousins though as that uncle died when I was five years old and he and his family lived about 70-80 miles from here so they never came to this area nor did my Mom and I go there. Don't know why that was but it just was that way. So it has only been over the past 10 years or so that I have come to know those nine cousins now too. And what a great "tribe" they are too!
One of my cousin's son and his wife have two daughters and one, the younger, is like my two little grandkids, also autistic. Today was the first I had seen that young man in at least 20 years, possibly longer so it was also the first time my kids and I had ever met his wife much less their girls. But, since I communicate from time to time with his mother via e-mail, I was aware of their younger daughter being autistic and they knew about my two grandchildren also having this disorder so at the dinner following the funeral, he and his wife and my daughter Mandy -as well as my older daughter, Carrie, and I managed to sit and talk for a considerable length of time with them -comparing notes about the children and especially about the various programs offered where they live to those available here and what our main concerns were for these kids.
Their daughter is three years older than my granddaughter, Maya, so as such, she is now going to school and in the public school system. They are having major concerns with the way the teachers in their district don't really have much -if any -understanding or concept of the needs these autistic kids have to have met in order to be able to function at their maximum capacity. Very little structure within her classroom, kids moving around, in and out of the class on a frequent basis, noise levels not being held down -all which combine to the potential for her to not advance and even worse, to possibly regress. This is also what worries me when I think about next year when Maya will leave the school she currently attends and will be integrated into our local school in the kindergarten group. It is the biggest fear I think Mandy and I both have that she will meet with too much disruption in the classroom, not enough structure and that she might possibly regress. He told me that their daughter, in kindergarten, had homework but when she moved into first grade, there was no homework. When they inquired about that, the teacher's response was that they had tried home work once but it didn't seem to work, so they discarded it -plus she said a number of parents had complained about the kids being given homework. Somehow, the logic there escapes me, but then, what the heck do I know -I'm not a teacher by training. Although, when my older daughter was in the early grades, she was in a class setting with very little structure, no homework, either, and she did very poorly in that setting. And she didn't have the same needs for strict standards and structure that children with autism really have to have in order to thrive.
Although the circumstances that brought some of my cousins and I together today were of the type that all too often are the only type that does occasionally bring family members in contact again with each other, it was still a great day in so many ways. My aunt would have been so happy to see how many of the nieces and nephews and grandkids, great-grandkids were there and able to reunite.
I even saw some people I knew -old friends and acquaintances that I hadn't seen in anywhere from 20 to 47 years too! It's amazing how rapidly time marches -no, I think it races actually -on and how easily we can forget about this or that person when we don't have the opportunity to see them on a frequent basis.
Although many of us had cameras there today and lots of photos were taken, I'm going to leave you with this picture of all my cousins, my girls, myself -with the exception of one cousin and his wife who were at the Memorial but due to another commitment, had to leave right after that and couldn't stay for the dinner.
But I think we make a darned good looking -and pretty friendly appearing -group, don't you?
Now, take a little lesson from this story tonight - stay in contact as much as possible with your extended family. It's important for many, many reasons but the main one I think is to be able to share and spread the love of each other on forward in time.