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Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Annual Family Reunion!

Another family reunion has come and gone, but the memories we create definitely last a lifetime and beyond.  Yesterday was our 13th annual family reunion, it was so wonderful to see family members, and just catch up on what has been happening over the past year.  It is beautiful to see that our family is continually growing with new additions almost every year.  It was so much fun to watch all the little ones having a great time, playing with cousins they don't get to see too often, it's just wonderful. 

We also miss those who could not be there this year because of distance, commitments or life, but luckily there is generally lots of photos taken, so they at least can feel a part of the festivities in some way.  Of course we also feel the sense of loss, feel the void of those who are no longer with us.  But somehow they manage to let us know they are near, watching over us.  For example, just as we began to gather for prayer prior to eating, a beautiful large butterfly floated by, and I knew Rachel was present.  As the day progressed, my dad, uncles, aunt and grandparents where very much on people's lips.  They were part of conversations, especially as a photo album was being passed around.  Even though each of our deceased family members were not there physically, they were most definitely there in spirit.  

Memories where shared, laughter abounded as old photographs were circulated.  Younger cousins,  nieces and nephews, laughed and poked fun at hairdos and clothing styles, or how serious people looked in older photographs.  But what truly amazed me, was the connections that were occurring as older relatives shared the stories, and younger family members took them all in.  For some, it seemed they couldn't get enough, a simple reminder that there are so many stories to be told.  We are all story-tellers, we are commissioned to pass the baton to the younger generations.  It is through the stories and sharing that they come to know those family members they never got the chance to meet.  These are the stories of great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and all those people who made us who we are; FAMILY!  

My grandson recognizes his Auntie Rachel's photograph, and in a few years when he can comprehend, we will begin to share her story with him.  Like my grandson, for so many family members, that is there only connection with deceased family members.  I noticed it yesterday with some of the younger cousins from my generation, those who did not really have the opportunity to know my grandmother, those born after she had died.  They longed to have pictures of her, i-phones, etc., came out of the woodwork as they eagerly took pictures of pictures, wanting to have a momento, wanting to say 'this is MY grandmother' too.  

Luckily my family is not uncomfortable talking about our deceased loved ones, in fact there is a sense of pride when there names are spoken.  It gives everyone an opportunity to share there fondest memories in an atmosphere of compassion and understanding.  It allows healing en-mass.  My family is like one great big counseling sessions all wrapped up in love, laughter and life.  And even if we are not comfortable in sharing all our feelings, thoughts and emotions, we at least know they care, they put family first and that when all is said and done, we are family.

Yesterday was just a very strong reminder of how I made it through the darker days of my grief.  For me, it was in knowing that no matter what, I had and have people I could and still can rely on to give me the strength and courage I need to face each day.  It is just knowing that with all my faults and failings, they still love me for who I am, quirks and all.  My family is truly a blessing too me, and Rachel, my dad, and all my deceased relatives knew and still know this strong bond, this deep nurturing, and most importantly, this undying love, that not even death can steal away.  My hope for you is that you have people in your own lives who can do the same for you.

Well today I am tired, this 'weekend warrior' stuff is killer, I have muscles hurting that I don't remember having, but the memories that have been created will sustain me not only today, but tomorrow and for years to come.  Again, I am grateful for the insight of a couple of my uncles who decided that a reunion would be a great way to connect, even if only once a year.  It gives so much more in return than anyone could have ever anticipated.  Life will constantly change, people will come and go in our lives, and hopefully there will always be someone who is willing to pass on the baton and allow the memories to be shared.

Who we are is a reflection of everyone who has been a part of our lives, directly and indirectly, past and present, whether they were part of our lives for years, or for a short time, they are all a major part of our very fiber, our essence; just a Rachel is very much a part of who I am, and I a part of her.  The connecting fiber throughout is love, and love is the strongest of all, binding us together for eternity; giving us so much, helping us to carry on.  

Love could be felt this weekend even if it was not spoken, and love has seen us through many difficulties, and it will takes us well into the future.  Love does not fail, love does not end.  Love gives life, love is life and love flows freely through the veil of death.  Love conquers all!

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where was God?

Recently the question of my faith keeps coming up.  A few weeks ago someone asked me what God and my faith meant to me.  Just last week I was asked again where I felt God was in my darkest days.  And this past weekend, the question came up yet again.  Where did I see God in Rachel's death?  As many of you already know, Rachel died on September 9, 2006, a date which is rapidly approaching, and will represent 5 years since her tragic accident and death.  My faith has been my anchor in the storm, my foundation when everything around me shook, and the light even in the darkest of hours.  It has kept me going.

The first question of God's presence took place right at Rachel's bedside.  A friend had stopped by to see Rachel and be there to support us in our hour of need.  As he stood there, he quietly asked, 'Where is God in all this?,' to which I answered 'He has been with us all day.' and really gave it no further thought.  I had started that fateful day with one simple request, and I had asked God to give me the strength to deal with whatever the outcome might be.  I was unable to pray all day, even though my rosary remained in my hands, and when clergy came in and out of Rachel's room, I found myself often times, just going through the motions.

The following morning, September 10th, my husband and two children attended 10 a.m. Mass.  I felt a need to attend Mass, and I had been scheduled to be the lector for that Mass and in my infinite sense of responsibility, had not gotten anyone to cover for me.  So here we were, and I proclaimed the readings, and even though it was difficult, I felt comforted.  Why did I need to be at Mass?  Why was it so important to me?  For me, this was a place that brought me peace and comfort, a place that I knew I was accepted in all my brokenness.  This was my extended family, who would embrace me as I was.  This was were I needed to be at that moment in time. 

A few months later while driving my son to school, he asked, 'Why did God let this happen?'  Why did he let Rachel die?'  Questions that I knew would eventually come up, since they had been questions, I had often asked in silence.  My response, was God didn't let it happen and he no more wanted to see Rachel die than we did.  I assured him that God cried right along with us, for He too had watched his own Son die.  I reminded my son that God actually had been with us all through that day and the days that followed.  He was present in the people who came to the hospital.  He surrounded us with family and friends.  He sent us medical staff that were kind and compassionate.  He even somehow made sure Rachel was not alone on that stretch of highway.  And in the days that followed, his comfort could be felt in the many calls, cards, and the simple gestures of those around us.  The amazing thing for me was when I voiced this belief, a sense of peace came over me, and still comes over me every time I share my journey and how my faith has kept me going.

A friend called several months after Rachel's death, and my answer surprised her.  She asked if I was angry at God, to which I simply said, 'No, it wasn't His fault, Rachel fell asleep at the wheel, there was no one to blame, but Rachel herself.'  I guess it wasn't the answer she expected, and I found out later, that others did not expect it either.   Did I ever get angry with God?  Yes!  Did I ask for explanations. Yes!  But I also spoke to Him, even yelled at Him, trying to understand.  I remember going into my room, closing the door, and having an argument with God.  I have to admit it was a bit one-sided, I did all the yelling and He simply listened.  When I had finally spent all my emotion and anger, and was quiet, I heard the reassuring words 'I'm here!  I am with you.'  I cried and journaled and in my writing I felt a calming, peacefulness that is hard to explain, a sense of being hugged and held.  

Grief is not an easy journey, and in its darkest hour, we sometimes feel there is no way out.  We believe that we will never be happy again, we will never be able to smile or find joy in life.  But yet, somehow we do smile, we find joy, and we begin to laugh again, and the memories become treasures we hold dear.  My faith has been my guide and continues to be my strength, and anger and doubt help us to voice what we keep within.  God after all is my Father, and like my own father, He accepts that there will be anger, there will be disagreement, there will be discouragement, there will be questions, and that in time there is acceptance and understanding.  And like any loving father, He too worries about us, but yet keeps at a safe distance, and waits for us to call on Him for help and guidance. 

I know that it has been my faith that has held me in those times when I felt I could not go on, let alone stand.  It has been my faith that has been my true strength, and my belief that I will see Rachel again when I die.  My prayer and hope for you is that you have something to hold on to, a faith to cling to, a belief to see you through.  Whatever you believe, let it be you comfort and strength, your guide and hope.  For what is life without hope, what is love without give and take, and what is strength without sacrifice.  This weekend I heard someone say, that without hope there is no life, only death.  This is not necessarily a physical death, but a death to who we are, and what we can become.  Faith is hope, and when even a small glimmer of hope exists, so much can and will happen.  It brings to mind those miners in Chile, who held onto the hope of rescue.  Who in October of last year, rejoiced at the tiny glint of light that made its way through the depths to lead them out of their darkness and back into the fullness of light; into the arms of their loved ones, and the rejoicing that resounded around the world.

So remember that everything we hold dear, holds us dear, and it is our faith, our beliefs and our hope that give us the tools for the journey, no matter how arduous the road.  For me personally, it is the knowledge that I am not alone, that gives me the strength to go on; knowing that I am loved, and that I am 'held in the palm of His hand,' gives me a comfort that goes beyond explanation.

Blessings! and until we meet again.