She didn’t come to the reunion. Even though we had gathered from across the Midwest and New England and Nicaragua and Hawaii, my ninety-eight-year-old mother-in-law stayed in her hospital bed, breathing along with her oxygen machine and dozing off when her eyes felt heavy. It was the first time ever that she didn’t make it to a Swartz gathering.
Except that she kept showing up.
Saturday morning, we rotated through mini workshops, learning from each other how to decorate cookies, how to manage finances, how to add Latin flavors to everyday foods, and how to garden with native plants.
“Grandma would have loved this,” we said to each other.
While Uncle Tim led a workshop on how to cut your trash in half, I thought of how Grandma had recycled and repurposed long before today’s trend.
And when the family branch from Hawaii taught us how to make Polynesian flower crowns, someone said, “I’m making mine for Grandma.”
For a couple hours at a time, a few of us would go missing. Our names were on the time slot to visit Grandma. And when we showed back up at the reunion, it was often with tears in our eyes and smiles on our faces.
“She’s hanging on to her life, asking about mine,” someone said.
We ended the reunion talking about Grandma—how her definition of family extends beyond us. All of us having been born or adopted into her family might be in the inner circle. But we aren’t the only circle. She is a mother to us, but she has also been a mother to inmates in prison and a lonely neighbor down the street and folks in a homeless shelter.
And acknowledging this about Grandma’s life, makes us think about how we live.
From her hospital bed, Grandma keeps showing up.