A Family Re-union

This past weekend took Eli, Andi, and me on a road trip with my sister (their aunt Laura) to Colorado for a family reunion. The family that was gathering is my dad’s maternal grandparent’s family, or my paternal grandma’s siblings and their offspring. Every 3 years for 27 years (1986-2012), the family has gathered, all but one occurring in Estes Park Colorado- most definitely a highlight and perhaps sometimes the saving grace of the whole event!  The original intent was for the cousins to get to know each other. The “cousins” were 11 adults aged 29-48 when the first gathering occurred. I was 6 years old and pig-tailed at the first.

Driving up from Denver with both my sisters and one brother in law, we arrived at the camp later than we had originally intended. We just missed the reintroductions and catch up hour. Whoops- such a gathering is always helpful when one does not remember names and family connections for all one’s 3rd cousins and their children- (who are those kids anyway?- my third cousins twice removed?). Who goes with who and who’s missing questions were answered in the hour that we had just missed by minutes. Alas, we had reviewed enough on the way up to get by that first night and would sneak in questions about certain individual’s names as the weekend went on. Our dear grandma of course had it all straight and one lunch with her and we were caught back up!

Family reunions…what a gift…what a racket…what a phenomenon! Attending as an adult with my own family for the third round of this reunion, I wondered about my reasons for being there. The trip was expensive and took time out of the very end of our last real summer (Eli goes to kindergarten in 2 days!!!). My own first cousins no longer attend the reunion and this was the second reunion in which my parent’s separation and now divorce made for an awkward and less whole experience.What was the point of driving a long distance to spend a weekend with people I hardly know?

To decipher motivation, I’ll take into account not so much why I decided to make the trip in the first place but what happned while we were there last week and reflections upon those occurrences.

By my own definition, a  re-union implies a chronological occurence set to some consistency that allows for an intentional coming together. During the 3 days of the 2012 Torrell Family reunion,  a re- union happened between families extended by geographic distance, familial origins, the additions and subtractions of spouses, deaths, disagreements, and scheduling conflicts.

We came together for the ninth time to continue a tradition, honor a history, refresh relationships, learn from our elders, connect with cousins intimate and distant, and to celebrate and honor our Swedish heritage. (My grandma’s parents both came over from Sweden- her mom was nine years old when she landed at Ellis Island). In the process of re-unioning, there was a meshing/crashing/melding of, mildly different to glaringly opposite, family rituals, political beliefs, parenting habits, and personalities.

In the wake of the mesh/crash/meld, there were moments of joy (seeing people we loved we haven’t seen in years, playing games, laughing at stories and old pictures), awe (hiking part of Long’s Peak, the breathtaking views surrounding the camp as the purple mountain majesty popped out from the cloudless blue sky, watching the strength of a cousin who was mourning the first anniversary of her husband’s death and another cousin’s sheer strength of spirit and muscle who maneuvers without the use of her legs in a wheel chair to be a grandparent to 3 young grandchildren and a full participant in hosting the event this year), uncomfortable (a sharing session where a few were vulnerable but most deep and intimate happenings were left untold- never acknowledged or shared in a public way), awkward  (a friendly and traditional softball game filled with miserable softball skills that turned competitive and during which I completely over-swung and fell onto my knee- a ridiculous enough event without the added humiliating bonus of me being very very pregnant!), and profound (singing and praying together, watching my dad connect and play with Eli and Andi and the joy they shared together, walking right through difficult conversations and coming out more settled on the other side, and the tender and generous spirits of a small piece of the kingdom of God that came together).

It was a good experience- a wonderful tradition and a new memory. Getting time to be with my Grandma Sustad and my dad and sisters were highlights, but connecting with distant cousins also brought blessings- new insights, old histories, tears and giggles. My kids played in a mountain playground and made new friends. We go to reunions not just to receive but also to give- to submit ourselves to people we don’t get to choose to be around but are given to us to get to know, love and appreciate.

As we drove back yesterday, Laura and I started a list of what we want to continue and what we hope to add to make the 2015 reunion, the one our little family is in charge of hosting, an even more special mash-up of families who are willing to commit to the re-union process.




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