I attended the funeral of my six month old niece Jolee, last week. She rests by her sister on a hill overlooking our family's childhood home.
I felt raw. Even though she had been struggling with her health since birth and her death was expected, it was hard. Especially since this was the second time our family has watched my sister and her husband go through the process of burying a child.
But what I saw was beautiful as well. It was a funeral done well, with a family doing it's best to support each other. Seven out of eight siblings came from all over the country- sometimes at great personal sacrifice. They were there to cry with each other. They helped babysit. They set up the viewing at my parent's home. They prepped food. They helped reduce costs for little Jo's parents and mourned with them by digging the grave themselves and filling it.
My sister commented over and over again how much she learned about the strength of a family, how vital it is, and how she wishes everyone had it. We were grateful to be there with her. Not always knowing what to do, sometimes doing the wrong thing, but we were there.
And it mattered that we were there.
But here's the thing: do you think that the 8 of us siblings were always like this?
Uh, no. I'm sure our parents despaired of us EVER being like this. Thankfully, there is a beautiful thing called "growing up".
See if any of these things have happened in your family:
But through it all, after childhood we remain the best of friends. We are decent people who try to make the world a better place. We'll never win the Nobel Peace Prize or be rich or famous or anything else. But we are there for each other. In good times and especially during bad times. I call that successful parenting.
We all have times when our kids walk out the door looking like orphan children with mismatched socks, pants that are too short and hair that is uncombed. We have times when our kids are literally fighting all day, and often our house might look like a bomb went off in it. There will be times when we can't give our children all the opportunities we want to.
But those things don't matter now, and I hope my mom didn't feel like a failure when these things happened to her. Because we are incredibly grateful to her and our dad for what they DID do. They DID let us know that we could always count on them. They DID teach us right from wrong. They DID teach us to be kind. They DID teach us to serve and love each other and the community. They did a lot of things right.
And then I think about my sister. How I have the privilege of holding all of my children and she does not. What really matters in our parenting when it really comes down to it? What will we remember? What will they remember? So much is trivial, and I get mad and stressed far too easily over things that don't matter. They do, but not really.
As my sister and her husband prepared themselves for little Jo's death, a lot of us went to California to go visit them and spend time with Jo. Every visitor was asked to write down something they were grateful for on the cute board in the picture above, and my sister and her husband added their gratitude as well. It was a powerful reminder that there is always something to be grateful for- even during the hardest times. They have shown me that no matter the size of your family, there can be strength, friendship and love tightly bound.
There are a lot of families like mine. But if this family cycle is not yours- you can be the one to start it. Your life and those of your children will be immeasurably better because of it. I believe God gave us families to help us through this tough thing called life, and that we will see our loved ones again.
Let's all hug our families tonight, and remember what is most important.
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