Three years ago my entire family gathered in the wake of my mother’s death for a full family reunion.
That equates to my father, our beloved patriarch, four couples, and eight children, most under the age of 13. It’s a lot of people.
We stayed just two hours from home and rented hotel rooms in the mountain town my family spends a lot of time in.
There was wiffle ball and swimming and meeting up at the hot tub in the evenings. There were hikes and flower collecting and late night movie watching and a couple of very nice meals out.
There was a bit of friction, as there is likely to be when you gather that many related people in one place for several days.
But by far, the highlight of the trip for me was the night we held a talent show.
The talent show was the idea of my then 13-year-old niece, the eldest of the brood. When she first suggested it, I groaned inwardly. In the wake of my mother’s death, just getting everyone together seemed challenging enough. Planning something relatively organized that required all parties (my niece and my ever-eager daughters insisted all must participate) to do perform honestly seemed at worst impossible and at best sickly unpalatable.
How do you deny a 13-year-old with an idea to bring her family together? Answer: you don’t.
Hand-drawn fliers were created immediately and distributed by doe-eyed girls eager for a smile and unbridled enthusiasm in return. Prima and my niece amazingly uncovered a clipboard and went around signing people up for the talent show. Like their overachieving parents before them, they were focused on 100% participation.
Soon, instead of reticent retreats, there began to be a bit of a buzz about what everyone was going to do – would my super athlete sis-in-law run a mini boot camp? My youngest nephew had an Adele song prepared. What would I do?
Mid-week, the evening of the talent show arrived and we gathered in the family room of our mountain house to take in the festivities.
Stories were told, songs were song, back-breaking exercises were attempted, and poems recited. We laughed a lot and cried a little, too. It was a thing of relieved, pure beauty. After a year under the afghan of grief, it seemed as if we were all, collectively, able to have fun again.
Someone had an iPhone, and someone put on music and a dance party began.
The next thing I know, our broken and rebuilding, hurt and hopeful, soulful and silly herd of a recovering family was dancing like maniacs to the persistent syncopation and perfection of that year’s biggest song.
As Rihanna crooned, “I found love in a hopeless place,” I jumped along with the herd, as high as I could, as long as I could and with as much gusto as I could. I screamed the lyric. My legs burned and my lungs ached. And my soul caught fire. And I sobbed.
For despite the despair of loss, in spite of what our mother’s death had broken in each of us and for all of us, we managed, in all of our neediness and selfishness and willfulness, to find love – and joy, and hope (that bastard) — and we managed to dance.