The year 2007 was difficult for my Mom and all of our family. Mom had a lot of health issues that year, starting in June. I live on the East Coast but my parents live almost 1100 miles away in the Midwest. Three of my siblings live near my parents and the other four are scattered around the country. It’s seldom that all eight of us grown siblings get home at the same time. I moved to the East Coast as a young bride in 1975, not realizing how hard it would be living so far from Mom, Dad, and all of my siblings. Normally I visit in the summer but several of my siblings normally visit for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s always been difficult for me to get away from work at Christmas and now that my kids are older, I host a gathering at my house for everyone. I miss being with my family at Christmas more than any other time of the year. Mom always made sure that Christmas was special when we were growing up.
In 2007, it was really driven home to me and my siblings that our parents’ health wouldn’t last forever. Both Mom and Dad had always been pretty healthy. Mom walked 3-4 miles every day and was very active at the time. But she has never liked doctors much and so she didn’t have regular or even irregular checkups. She was finally convinced to go to the doctor that summer for a spot on her nose that turned out to be cancerous. That doctor’s visit was the start of a roller coaster of medical woes for Mom.
I was there the day she was scheduled to have surgery in June; however, her blood pressure was so high that instead of having surgery, she was put in the hospital. After the June visit, I came out to Kansas again in July, August, October, and November. During each of those visits, one or more of my siblings who don’t live in Kansas were also there. During several of the visits, Mom was in the hospital. It seems like every time they fixed something, they found something else that was wrong. In between visits, one of my sisters kept us all updated via email about Mom’s health. We wore out the email circuit with our questions and responses. Mom had always been a tough cookie but for the first time, she seemed frail and we were all concerned. Among ourselves, we siblings decided it would be a good idea for all of us to try to come home at Christmas time.
My kids were all in their 20s and hadn’t been along on the trips earlier in the year but all were able to take time off work to accompany me in December. We all flew out and arrived the same day as several of my siblings. Six of my seven siblings were there along with four spouses. Nearly all of my parents’ grandchildren were there, nineteen in all including two of my nieces’ spouses. Both of my parents’ great-grandsons were also there. In all, there were 35 of us including my parents and one of our dear family friends. We were missing my oldest sister who was unable to be there, a couple of our spouses, and a few of my parents’ grandchildren who couldn’t come.
We spent a lot of time together celebrating Christmas and the joy of being a part of a big family. Eleven of the kids were ten years old or younger. We opened a mountain of gifts the way we did as children, one person opening one gift at a time. We had a catered Christmas dinner so nobody had to spend the day in the kitchen. Over the days when we were all there, cousins who rarely saw each other got to play together while getting to know one another. We posed for a lot of pictures together including one picture that one of my nieces’ husbands took of everyone with their cameras.
It was a real Kansas Christmas, complete with a big snowfall. The kids all went sledding on the hill behind my brother’s house with the older kids helping the younger ones. It was almost like being a kid again to be there in the midst of the family. We adult kids stayed up late every night talking and enjoying each other’s company. We laughed as we told old stories, prompting Mom to say, “You people need to write these stories down.” Our family all love sweets so we made a lot of desserts while we were there as well as a lot of food. Cooking for such a big group is challenging but we made it happen for the rest of the meals, taking turns cooking and cleaning up.
All too soon, our visit ended and one by one, those of us who don’t live in Kansas said our good-byes and drove or flew back home. Mom’s health improved over time and I sometimes wonder if having almost all of her family together helped her to get better. Although both of my parents have had additional health issues since then, they both continue to hang in there. That Christmas vacation in Kansas is one I will never forget.