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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

A couple weekends ago we made our mostly annual trip to the Ritter Reunion, this year in Kearney, the town of my birth and the “big” town to the south of the farm where my mother was born. Other than the humidity, Kearney is a nice place to visit.

My mother was the impetus behind our family reunions, organizing our first getaway reunion at Ft. Robinson (Crawford, NE) in 1986. When people try to figure out the date, my brother Scott and I firmly remind them, as that was the only reunion pre-Lori and pre-Sherman—we would both meet our life-mates within months of that reunion.

So this was the first reunion ever without my mother, although last year’s reunion was one reunion too many for her. That reunion was a sober event in many ways for most in attendance. As shocked as our personal family was by how much she had lost in the six weeks following her hospitalization, my faraway cousins were more shocked. They had not witnessed the day-to-day losses over the previous year that would culminate in her permanent loss of independence less than a month after the gathering.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Mom and her sister took a different path from their brothers—they did not raise their families in the close-knit environment surrounding Pleasanton, the “little” town to the north of the farm. But my family lived close enough for us to return for holiday celebrations and other visits several times a year. My mother always loved to come home to her parents and the varying nieces and nephews running around the house in town—the home where her parents settled in retirement.

My father was raised an only child (his birth followed his only brother’s death) so family gatherings on his side were so quiet. In fact, even my dad craved coming to that home so often filled with noise and people. Our larger family gave him something of what he had enjoyed growing up in a town with his own cousins—and what was sorely missing in his adult years until he married into this family.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

We Ritters still fill the spaces with noise, even if there are no walls to contain that noise. Since I moved away from Nebraska, we almost always have to travel long hours to reach these reunions. After the quiet of the car, I am rarely ready for the chaos that will greet me when we first meet up with the family. That’s why I prefer to have a little extra time before we see everyone—and yet by the end, I am part of that noise and not ready to leave again.

Some of Mom’s proudest possessions have been her Ritter Reunion T-shirts so she has a new shirt in her drawer, complete with her name on it, along with those of her siblings.

It’s always difficult after there is an empty place at the reunion picnic table (miss you, too, Uncle Dale, Aunt Arlys, and Dad!) but there are new faces too, including Avery, a miracle whose chubby cheeks belie the scars on her chest from two heart surgeries, and Kai, my (step) nephew’s son (who for sure can’t have our blood because he sleeps like a dream—but we’re keeping him anyway!)

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

As we “mature” cousins circled up our lawn chairs around the two sleeping babes, the remaining first-tier siblings and other “mature” cousins chatted in the shelter, while the grade-school aged kids went to the swim beach and the teenaged kids played lawn games. My mom’s vision was reality—that we would not forget each other and from whence we came—no matter how far we roamed to make our homes.

The June rains painted the farmlands green (although some would say a little less water color would be in order—their grains weren’t going to grow well in fields that resembled rice paddies!) Even if it is true that some who used to come are no longer part of this world, our family continues green in growth. The cycle of life just makes more sense in the rural spaces where families still work with the earth to provide our food.

Just as it makes sense to return year after year to remember who I am in relation to my relations—past, current, and those yet to begin their own roles in this cycle.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert


(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I like to help people, but deep down I’m a chicken. I prefer to help people from a distance, mostly by providing them with resources or getting some sort of task done for them that helps them with something in their everyday lives.

Truly, I like hiding behind my computer—behind words, numbers, etc.—not because I’m cold, but because I have a hard time forgetting others’ problems. I can imagine things well without having experienced them myself. Maybe that stems from the voracious reading I’ve done since I first learned to pick out words for myself. Or maybe that’s just how I came into this world since movies, songs, and visual pieces such as paintings and photos can reach me in the same way.

That’s why going to a support group can be a double-edged sword for me—sometimes I have to work not to feel overwhelmed. I love that I might be able to offer some information that might relieve someone else’s burdens, but often I find myself wanting to run away from the emotions that arise in such a group.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t run the Race for the Cure for several years. For anyone who has participated in the Race for the Cure, it’s not just the visual cues from the survivors’ pink hats or the heartfelt signs pinned to participants’ backs that make the event such a powerful emotional experience. I admit that cowardice has made me want to run away to avoid the race course’s tunnel—in such an enclosed space I know I am not able to escape from the emotions exuding from the crush of other women running so close to me. It’s as if fear, loss, anger, sadness, and whatever else are released from the sweat of those running and/or walking the course route—which is how it should be.

At this week’s Alzheimer support group I rather felt as if I were in that tunnel when the session started with a couple members in tears from deep loss—even as I looked to them with compassion in my eyes, I just wanted to bolt from that room and forget that anyone had to suffer through living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

But at the end of the evening a couple people who come solely to provide support—who have lost their loved ones—validated what it is we can give one another. The truth is most of us didn’t ask to know anything about this disease and how it affects people, but had to learn from the School of Hard Knocks.

There are so many of us out there—wherever I go I meet people who are dealing with loved ones with dementia and I do reach out to them in those spontaneous encounters —whether I have anything new to offer them or not or whether I’m just a fellow traveler on a similar journey.

My urge to run tends to occur more often when I’m in formal situations where people come together to share their burdens. However, running from others’ emotions is all about taking care of myself but not at all about helping others. In the end, others need me to help them in person, as much as I am able. I’ll never be that extremely warm person who always reaches out to others but I’ve come a long way. When you’re face to face with someone in pain, it’s pretty much impossible to retreat and think it’s good enough to give them help from a distance.

I can’t take away the main reason for other people’s pain and they can’t take away mine, but for a few moments side-by-side we can share one another’s burdens—and feel some weight lift from our shoulders before we leave to go back and do the hard work of helping our own loved ones through the long goodbye.

I’m so glad that last night people reminded me—again—why it’s so important for me to stop doing the stupid chicken dance and just stick around and be there in person for someone else.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

It’s been a big day around here—Christiana can legally buy spray paint on her own. Just kidding, there are a lot of things both kids can do on their own now that they are eighteen—they hate needles, so I’m not expecting any tattoos, though.

This birthday is just another sign of how much things are changing around our house. Pretty much everyone—and I mean almost everyone who knows we only have twins—wonders how we’ll survive this autumn when our house becomes much quieter. The question we keep hearing is, “What are you going to do with your time?”

My glib answer is that we will be able to sleep more and we won’t have to trip over so many shoes on the floor.

I have no deep answers for the question, though, because with all the family health concerns over the past few years, I haven’t had time to develop a plan for most days, let alone for sometime in the future. I know that’s not a good thing, but as much as I’m not that great of a planner in general, I am almost equally as good at doing what I need to do when faced with having to do things differently, with or without preparation. Trust me, going from DINKs (Double-Income No Kids) to sleep-deprived parents of twins who worked together was a major paradigm shift for both Sherman and me.

In the end, Sherman and I had to find our own ways, together and apart, when I gave birth to our instant family. When we face the instantaneous return to a household of two, we will no doubt each have an individual response beyond our shared experience.

However, just because I can respond to change doesn’t mean there isn’t some trauma and stress associated with transitions, especially in those situations when I encounter transitions where I actually gain enough time to think about what I’m doing.

What I do know is that I’m a lot like my mom in that I put my main focus on raising my kids. Frankly, that gets exhausting as the years pass. Some of us do a little better stepping back from that focus when tangible boundaries, such as distance, get put in place. I don’t know how the transition went for my mom, but by the time I came home after college graduation, she was ready to do things her own way in her own house. She was happy to see me, but she wasn’t interested in integrating me back into her everyday life.

It was her turn to sleep more and not trip over so many shoes.

It was also her turn to put some space between the situations and choices that are part of the often chaotic transition to adulthood and to let me handle those years—mostly—on my own.

Who will any of us in this house be next year at this time?

My most recent Chinese fortune about sums it up: “Next summer you will dance to a different beat.”

But tonight we celebrated the eighteen years we’ve had together—and will keep celebrating throughout this summer—before we leap forward into moving with whatever beat we hear next.

Happy eighteenth birthday to both Jackson and Christiana! May you have a great time as you figure out how to dance to the rhythm of living away from our home—we’ll be listening while also finding our own rhythm.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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