Note from Stacey: Every Thursday we’re thrilled to offer Laura’s Mileposts in the Distance column.
The last family gathering of the summer is over. The majority of my siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins spent the holiday weekend in Chicago to attend the second family wedding of the season. The first was held on a gorgeous farm in the middle of New Jersey while this one had a rooftop ceremony with stunning views of the city and a casually elegant reception in a neighborhood restaurant.
The view from the ceremony
The weddings beautifully reflected each couples’ love and devotion to each other and their allegiance to a wonderful party. This go round all the elements of fun were there – cold beer, chilled champagne, delicious food, dancing and laughter – and as guests, we each took our portion and ran with it.
Then after the reception most of us gathered in the hotel lobby bar for one last drink or conversation or hug and you’d have thought we’d been separated by a decade or more. One of the non-family guests watched us in action and said in a tone of wonder, “You guys really like each other.”
I considered what he said and replied “Yes, we do.”
That’s not to say any of us are immune to the annoyances of being family. There will always a kids’ table leagues apart from the adults’. There will always be organizers working with people most comfortable winging it. There will always be the chefs giving orders and the kitchen slaves cleaning up.
But for those short times when we are together in one place instead of living in the disconnect of distance and busy lives, the greater joy of being with each other takes precedence over squabbles and differences. This go round I revisited conversations from July, showed photos of Ireland to my parents, showed photos of the Handsome Son and Lovely Daughter to people who hadn’t seen them in years. I danced a little and talked a lot.
MDR was unable to join me over the weekend. I missed his company, but found that I had unexpected gifts of more time with my siblings including sharing a room with my sister Clare. When we turned out the lights the first night, she asked me, “How long has it been since we shared a room?” The answer: over four decades.
Funny it felt like we were stuck with each other much longer than that.
There are four McConville sisters. The first three of us were born within 27 months of my parents’ wedding; the fourth was born in a different decade (making her the Lovely Youngest Daughter). Despite our personalities being very, very different (though we shared plenty of traits), we spent a lot of long days with each other to my mother’s alternating relief and frustration.
I could see, even when I was young, that my mom and her sisters were friends but it felt like it took a lot of practice to be true friends with my own sisters. We’ve been spread out for a long time, busy with our lives, children and careers. We’re always able to catch up, but this summer I saw that we are moving closer to the points in our lives where we’ll have time to be even better friends.
The McConville Sisters: Margaret, Clare, Kate and Laura
The final connection of the weekend came at 7 am Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral. Since it was so early, there was no music but the congregation was invited to sing the entrance and recessional hymns. The entrance hymn was “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” It was my maternal grandfather’s favorite hymn and my grandmother sang it in a strong, clear voice at his funeral after encouraging us all to sing with her. Then it was the recessional at my aunt’s (the mother of this weekend’s groom) funeral two decades later.
The hymn usually shows up in whatever church I attend around their birthdays. Each time I get goosebumps all over as I sing along. At a long ago lecture about the spirit world, someone once said that goosebumps mean that a spirit connected to you is in your presence. I’ve always found that to be comforting in so many ways and I find my aunt shows up at Mass whenever there is unusual music.
That morning I thought, “Of course! They are right here with us, ready for the party.” Connections, it seems, are never quite gone.
It was a lovely benediction to the weekend.
A summer spent connecting with family wasn’t quite what I expected when I chose my word of the year but it’s turning out to be just perfect. I’m learning that connections are always there: what’s important is how we choose to strengthen them. Sometimes it’s a strong tug to get back into the fold of family that brings you face to face with connections. Sometimes you connect through steady, gentle pulses that nurture through distance and decades. Sometimes a connection lies dormant until it is ready to serve a purpose in your life.
I can’t wait to find some more.
Laura Reeth lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with the man of her dreams. With kids off at college, she no longer plays the role of active, day-to-day parent, and has moved into the complex understanding-parent-of-nearly-adult-children role. The main difference is she gets more sleep now.