By NANCY PATRICK
Within the same week, I celebrated my 68th birthday and received the invitation and registration material for my 50th year class reunion for the Abilene High School class of 1968. Of course, I already knew I was getting older, but something about a 50th year reunion impressed me with the reality that most of my life is in the past. That didn’t make me sad, but it did make me reflective.
When I was a young child, my parents left our larger family, all in Arkansas, and moved my younger sister and me to Texas where we grew up and stayed with our own families. As a consequence, I lost the close connection I once had with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Although my family visited those in Arkansas twice a year, those visits were blitzes during which we went from house to house, seeing those relatives for an hour or so, and then moving on to the next house.
In all the decades of my adult life, I have sent annual Christmas letters to family to update them on graduations, jobs, marriages, births, and deaths, but I had no physical connection with my extended family until recently. In February, my mother’s older sister died at the age of 92. Her death leaves only one sibling from that generation, meaning that on my mother’s side, I now have my sister, one aunt, and three cousins.
When I learned of my aunt’s death, I was overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness as I realized that the family I was born into is almost gone. In all these years of separation, my cousins and I had not attended the funerals of each other’s parents, nor had we stayed in touch during our parents’ declining health. I rationalized that it was not necessary to attend my aunt’s funeral in Arkansas—her daughter (my cousin) hadn’t contacted me during my mom’s declining years or attended her funeral.
But, I couldn’t quit thinking about my shrinking family. I remembered the Christmas and summer visits during my childhood and the excitement of spending time with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents; and I realized I had to go to Arkansas for this funeral. I remembered Psalm 16:6: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (NIV). Although I had never thought of Arkansas as “delightful,” I suddenly realized that for me, it was.
My cousins were truly surprised when I called and said I was coming, but we were all excited to reconnect. As we shared memories, we laughed, cried, sighed, and became young again— if only for a few moments. Our shared memories seemed to erase the lost years of relationship, restoring our family with joy. I know my aunt would have loved seeing her daughter and nieces celebrating her life together as we said goodbye to her presence with us. Irish writer George Moore’s words capture the solace I felt back in the home of my birth: “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.