By Barb Arland-Fye
My mom and her sisters, co-conspirators in fun, arranged a 60th birthday party for me that celebrated something far more important: the love of extended family. Planning began months ago, before my actual birthday, April 1. But I was undergoing chemotherapy then. My sister-in-law who is a cancer survivor advised my mom to hold off until after my treatments ended.
We settled on a date, Aug. 25. My mom sent out invitations created by one of her sisters to aunts and uncles and cousins and their spouses, about 70 people all together. The belated birthday party provided a great excuse to host a family reunion, bringing together both sides of our family, and that’s why I consented to the party.
Bright blue and multi-colored balloons decorated the room at the restaurant in the Twin Cities reserved for the gathering. Two of my aunts sat at a folding table distributing name tags and tickets for beverages. Name tags? But as guests arrived, the value of name tags became evident. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in more than 25 years! My memories of them remain frozen in time — children running in and around our grandparents’ homes.
We hugged and laughed as we greeted one another at the party, glancing at each other’s name tag.
I met spouses of cousins for the first time, even some who had been married 30 years or more. The years peeled away — the joys, the sorrows, the stresses and worries — for one magical afternoon of reveling in relationship with aunts and uncles, cousins and their spouses, my siblings and parents.
My husband Steve and our two grown sons, Colin and Patrick, attended the party. What a joy to see Patrick talking with my cousin Jim about a favorite sport — hockey — and with my cousin Deb about a variety of things. These and other cousins at the party shaped my growing-up years. Our parents formed us in the Catholic faith, as their parents had formed them in the faith, providing sustenance for our journey on earth. I wanted my sons and my husband to experience that life-giving connection.
No one goes through life unscathed. My party-throwing aunts and uncles have endured any variety of challenges but give thanks to God for each day; this family reunion was one of the ways in which they express gratitude. They showered me with gifts and cards, which seemed really weird to receive nearly five months after my birthday!
The giving of gifts had everything to do with my relatives’ gratitude for answered prayers to my bouts with cancer. They provided prayer and moral support to my parents on what must have been a scary journey watching their daughter dealing with a disease that in their youth was fatal more often than not. My parents have provided prayer and moral support when our relatives dealt with serious illnesses and disease. That’s what you do when you’re family.
One of the gifts I received from my aunts, which I will treasure forever, is a bright pink bike jersey illustrated with a big yellow chick on the front and back and with the inscription “Biker Chick.” It’s a play on the nickname “One Tough Chick” that I adopted on the journey with cancer. The jersey sends a message, “We’ve got your back; we’re in this together — all of us — because we’re family.”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)