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This is the day that never ends, it just goes on and on my friend...

Updated on February 17, 2012

When my cousin Nate was little and cute ( I can hear the protests about him still being cute starting about now, which prompts me to ask if he still cheats at mini-golf as well), he was waiting for something. I can't remember what he was waiting for - that's not important. What is important was his anguished cry of "but I've been waiting for a thousand days!" And thus, a new saying went into regular extended family usage.

Currently, I, too, have been waiting for a thousand days, or at least since this morning. It is a sunny Friday afternoon, and I am waiting for my sister to pick me up from work so we can start the long and bumpy - often terrifying - jaunt down the 51 to get to where family is.

Our Grandma died two days ago. She went peacefully in her sleep. That night, I was dreaming some mundane old dream - probably a math anxiety dream that I still have even though I am almost 40, thank you oh so much subconscious - and in the middle of it, from out of nowhere, I heard "Oh, hi, Kira!" just like my Grandma always said it. And then the moment was gone. It seemed strange to me until I found out first thing in the morning that she had died. Now I like to think she was stopping by on her way through. But anyway. For the past two days, as my sister so aptly put it, its all I can do just to be here and not to be there, at the end of that bumpy road, with my dad and his siblings and their families. I need to be surrounded by those who know who I am and who know where I come from, because they come from there, too. They were shaped by the same upbringing and land as I was. They grieve as I grieve, as only those with a common history can grieve.

The funeral is on Saturday. When my husband heard that, he said "Oh, good. We can just go out and come back in the same day." I am sure that I blanched. No, I thought to myself. No we won't be going out and coming back on the same day. I need to be immersed in the noise and the chaos that is my family.

Chris often does not understand this need. His parents are both immigrants to Canada, and he has five first cousins in the whole world, only two of whom he has actually met and whose names he can remember. For him growing up, family meant him, his sister and their parents. There may be an odd aunt or uncle or grandparent thrown in the mix, but as most of those were back in Wales and Denmark, for the most part it was just the four of them. This is his experience of family. This is what he is comfortable with. And that is why he and the girls will be going out and coming back from the funeral on the same day. But not me.

My experience is somewhat different. My Dad has 63 first cousins. I am as close to a lot of these people and their kids as if they were my first cousins as well. I myself have 18 first cousins. And most of us - the 63 and the 18 - grew up in the same area. This meant that a family gathering had massive amounts of people. It was loud and there was laughter and a lot of food. People cheated at cards, songs were sung and babies were hogged. These were always multi-generational affairs, and my siblings and I were raised with the idea that family was everything, because that's what was modelled for us.

I can remember when my great-Grandparents were still alive, the parents of my Grandma who just died. I think we must have made the two hour journey to the city to see them on a Sunday afternoon at least once a month. We often met up with other family members who had the same idea. When one of them - I can't remember which one - was dying, and the family bedside vigils started, that is what seemed natural to us. But a nurse took my aunt aside one day and said that they rarely saw a family like this, one who cared so much for each other and who made such efforts. We all agreed that the fact that this merited a comment was very sad.

When a funeral happens in our family, there is a mass migration from the three prairie provinces to wherever the service is being held. There are people from other places, too, and wherever that service is going to be held is suddenly a lot more crowded and much louder. The music is awe-inspiring, and even the church juice tastes, if not good, than passable. The church cheese seems somewhat less greasy, and the cinnamon buns...well, those are always good. I got nothing there.

Don't get me wrong - our family is not perfect, not even close. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned the loud bit a couple of times. Some would probably add obnoxious to the list of adjectives. We're also a wee bit in your face and are usually pretty sure that our way is the smartest way. We think tact is something you hang stuff on a cork-board with, and we sometimes drive faster than we can see. We cause our spouses to roll their eyes and need alone time a lot.

But. We are there for each other, immediate and extended family alike. I am so grateful that I was born into the chaos that I was. It has always given me a sense of place and a sense of self, even when everything else felt all upside down. And even if my Grandma isn't waiting for me on the other end of the 51 anymore, her - and my - family is. And as long as they are all there, she will be there, too. Chuckling proudly to herself the louder it gets.

And that is where I need to be.

But I still have two hours (or 800 days) to kill. So I will listen to more AC/DC, because the call and answer of bagpipes to guitars is a good thing, no matter what anyone else says.


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