Yesterday, I gathered with members of my family to say goodbye to one of our own. Yesterday, I gathered with members of my family to offer a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, arms to embrace. Yesterday, I gathered with members of my family to share memories, tears, and laughter. It was where I needed to be; it was, as it always is, a reminder of how blessed I am to be part of this family.
Growing up, my life was full of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents—noise and chaos, visits and traditions, weekly rituals centered around church and family, food and drink, and laughter and love. I loved being part of a close-knit crazy clan! My father had an older brother and my mother had a younger sister. They each had three children, two boys and a girl. My cousins on Dad’s side were just a few years older than us; on Mom’s side, just a few years younger. My older cousins lived very close, and we all went to the same church, so we saw each other often. We would sit together, sometimes needing two pews, sometimes getting piercing looks from our grandmother up in the choir loft because we were giggling, which would just make us giggle more. After church we would walk to Grandma and Grandpa Hessert’s house and the grown-ups would have beer and wine, and the kids would have soda and pretzels and crackers. There was laughter and fighting and fun…and I looked forward to those moments.
My Mom’s family lived in Harrisburg, about an hour and a half away. Oddly enough, her sister’s husband and my Dad were childhood friends, before my Mom and my Aunt even moved to town, intertwining our extended families even more. We would go to Harrisburg very often to visit my Nanny Moore, and those visits always included dinners at Aunt Judy and Uncle Chip’s, playtime with my younger cousins, and more noise and chaos and laughter. Sunday mornings in Harrisburg meant worship at their church, where my Uncle was the pastor. It was the same ritual as home…sitting with cousins and giggling, walking next door after services to visit and eat. I loved it. And they would visit us in Williamsport as well, since my Uncle’s family lived near us, so we spent much time together.
As we grew older and went here and there for college, we would still try and get together as often as possible. I would take the train to visit my Nanny, and my cousin Mike would pick me up at the train station or my cousin Mary would sleep over at Nanny’s with me. I would catch a ride with my cousin Buddy and go home to Williamsport and my older cousin Debbie would sneak away from work and we would visit for hours. We always remained close…even as the time between visits spread out because life got busy…we would still connect as if no time had passed at all.
Throughout the years we would all come together…for confirmations, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, anniversaries, and yes, funerals. We would laugh until we cried, and cry until we laughed. And the bond was always there. That sense of family and belonging and connection. I think we have 16 babies between us, ranging in age from about 6 to 25. And now one of the babies is having a baby. We have welcomed husbands and wives…if you love one of us, you are loved by all of us. And of course, we have lost. We have lost our grandparents, some of us have lost parents, some of us have lost spouses, some of us have lost a sibling, and some of us have lost a cousin, an aunt, or an uncle. And it is in these losses, these most trying and difficult times, that I am most proud of who we are. I know that I will never have to cry alone, that I will never have to walk alone, that I will never have to face the unthinkable alone. As we stood around my cousin Michael and his children, Christopher and Kimberly yesterday, I hope they felt that too. As Cheryl bravely fought her battle with cancer, I hope she felt it. She loved them, and that was all we ever needed to love her. She was, and will remain, one of our own, one of our family, one of our blessings.