A bad case of poison ivy almost wrecked it. For the past 20+ years, my extended family on my mother’s side has had an annual reunion on Canada Day and a very bad case of poison ivy almost meant it didn’t happen this year.
The Canada Day party was started by one of my aunts many years ago at her home which had the draw of a pool for the kids… and some of the adults. Years later when she sold her house to my cousin, Jen, she and her husband took over hosting the annual party. Admirably, they juggled having 50 people over to their home every year, only missing one year when they were moving into their new home. My cousin Terry stepped in for that year.
The party almost didn’t happen this year because my cousin Jen was cleaning out the weeds at the back of her property before the party and didn’t realize that the weeds were poison ivy. Extreme pain meant a trip to the hospital. She was treated with steroids and managed to host the party after a bit of touch and go.
I have managed to get to the annual reunion most years but am feeling an increased sense of urgency to attend every year. I am grateful that my reduced commitments allow me to go without feeling pressured by other things on my to-do list.
Many studies have told us how important social interaction is in keeping us healthy as we age. One 60-year Harvard study found that people who maintained relationships with family and friends were happier, healthier and lived longer.
Dan Buettner, in his book The Blue Zones of Happiness, lists the top 10 practices for improving well being. The number one recommendation is “prioritize friends and family”.
Without the structure of work and kids’ activities, it can be harder to forge those interactions on a regular basis. It may take deliberate effort to forge those social ties once we retire.
Maintaining family ties also takes effort. I am talking about extended family – cousins, aunts and uncles. I was lucky to have grown up with a very large extended family – my father had 12 siblings and my mother had 6 siblings. These people knew you before you became who you are. I come from a blue-collar family and despite multiple university degrees and professional designations, I am still just Michelle to them. There is a certain freedom to knowing that they don’t really care what your career is or what is going on in your business life or how much money you make. They only want to know what is going on with you – are you happy?, are you healthy?, how are the kids doing?.
It is feeling more and more important to me that I attend these events as my parents and aunts and uncles are getting older. Two of my mother’s siblings have already passed away. My uncle has had kidney cancer for the past 6 years and this past year they took him off the chemotherapy drugs and put him on “quality of life” medications instead. We know we don’t have many years left with him so spending time at the Canada Day party was especially important as was the annual picture of my mother and her siblings that is taken each year.
My cousin whose dad has the kidney cancer was saying how we don’t know from year to year who will still be around so it was important that we make the effort to show up each year. I was thinking on the drive home that there was a good chance that one of us cousins would be attending next year’s Canada Day having lost one of their parents. I didn’t know at the time that my mother had been diagnosed with bone cancer. She told my sisters and I the day after the Canada Day party.
I was reminded how critical it is to make time for things that are really important. We don’t know how much time we will have with those that are important to us. I am grateful that I now have the time in my life to focus on the important things other than just work.
Please share with us how you maintain contact with your extended family and ensure those family traditions are maintained when the elders are no longer with us.