The girls and I were excited to have the weekend with Kirk’s family this past weekend. The family now has an annual family reunion where we usually have the opportunity to spend time with the whole family. Kirk’s mom had 11 children which included 8 boys and 3 girls. Through the years, many children have been born to her children and now to their children. I am not aware how many nieces and nephews that I have on that side of our family, but it is many.
Ever since my husband died in a work related accident in August 2011 after 18 years of marriage, then it has been a continual priority for me to make sure that my girls were able to continue to be a part of our family on his side just as much as they always were. We love seeing Nana, and all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends that come. I have known deep within my heart that this priority is a double blessing. It helps my girls and I to feel a little closer to Kirk when we are with them, and I believe that his family feels closer to him when they are around his daughters.
The reunion is always filled with so much laughter and fun. Being a part of a huge, loving family brings the girls and I so much joy. Nana is turning 80 on the 6th of August, and it had been decided that we would celebrate her 80th birthday at the reunion. On Friday night, the birthday party for Nana had been planned. It was so much fun to be able to see Nana celebrate with her children and family. Nana’s heart is filled with love, and she loves to tease and to have fun.
It has always been amazing to me to think about her life and all that she has done. Nana raised her 11 children without a dime of state assistance. She was determined to provide for her children. She has shared through the years that being she brought 11 children into the world that she wanted to be the one to take care of them. Nana would work several jobs at once to provide for her family. Nana had a heart full of love and a strong arm of discipline through the years. Nana was determined that her children would grow up to be respectful and responsible adults. It is a blessing to be able to see Nana’s fruit and all that she accomplished in her life. She is an amazing lady that I have been proud to call my mother-in-law for the past 25+ years and that my children have been able to have as their Nana.
I remember sitting with Nana after Kirk was killed. I remember crying with her and listening to her questions. She buried her son before I had to bury my own. In June 2013 when my only son PK was killed in a car accident, I remember her screams on the phone when I told her that my son had been killed only 22 months after her own son. She and the family came and surrounded the girls and I in love just as they had when Kirk was killed. They all have continued to love us and bring us much joy ever since. We have kept our Thanksgiving tradition through the years where the family comes to our home for several days for the Thanksgiving Holiday. Each of these traditions and time with the family that have continued through the years have been great blessings throughout the girls and my grief journeys.
The girls and I had a special presentation for the reunion that we were so excited about. Kirk had always been known for his wonderful BBQ. Many people through the years who had worked with us loved being able to eat his grilled meats that were flavored with his delicious BBQ sauce. My brother and his wife were two that loved Kirk’s BBQ sauce. When we were home in North Dakota a few weeks ago then my brother said that he had a special gift for us. My brother and his wife had sat with Kirk at least four times when he made his special BBQ sauce. Kirk did not have the recipe written down, and my brother and his wife tried their best to capture the recipe while he was making it. It was challenging as Kirk did not measure anything and would decide if something was enough by tasting it.
My brother and his wife had written down the recipe without our knowledge and had kept it through these past years. This year they had mixed up a batch of his BBQ sauce and surprised the girls and I with a bottle. They had made special labels for the bottles and had even included the recipe on the back for the girls and I to have. This was such a touching and surprising blessing. In grief, these gestures are so important and meaningful. It was so special to the girls and I that we now each had a bottle of their dad’s sauce and that we would always have the recipe. I remember the tears in my eyes as I pondered the thoughtfulness and time that my brother and his wife put into this very special surprise. I told the girls that we would do the same for Kirk’s mom and brothers and sisters at this year’s family reunion.
A few days before the reunion I mixed up a double batch of the special BBQ sauce. My excitement was great thinking about having the opportunity of presenting this special gift to his brothers and sisters. On Friday night at Nana’s birthday party, we asked all of Kirk’s brothers and sisters and mom to come to the front of the room. I shared the story of what my brother and his wife had done with his family. I could see how blessed they were as they realized that they were now getting a bottle of Kirk’s sauce along with his recipe. I watched as the girls proudly gave a bottle to each family member.
It is in these moments of grief that we have the opportunity to honor those that we have lost. I knew how special it was for the girls and I to each receive a bottle of Kirk’s special sauce and his recipe. It was a true joy to be able to pass the blessing along to his family. I shared with the family how happy that we were to be able to bring a little of Kirk to the reunion. So much love and thanks to my brother and his wife for this special blessing that meant so much to us and now additionally meant so much to Kirk’s family!! What a blessing!!
The reunion continued on through the next day with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. The girls and I had a wonderful time with all of the family. We missed those who were unable to come but completely enjoyed all that were able to come. The amount of kids that are in the family is always so much fun. I had lots of fun with many of them. My one nephew Aiden who loves to learn and has lots of questions rode with MiKayla and I over to the reunion spot on Saturday morning. Aiden has lots of questions, and I love to try to see if I can answer each one. Aiden has always been one who brings us a lot of joy. I still remember one of the earlier Thanksgivings when he came to at our home. I always try to have our home completely decorated for the holiday season before the family arrives at Thanksgiving. When Aiden walked in then his excitement was so strong. He then named me “Aunty Christmas” to my delight after being so excited to be in our home when it was all decorated. This past Saturday morning at the end of our car ride and time together and many questions that Aiden had asked, he looked up at me with his big, brown eyes and asked, “Aunty Kristi, why are you so nice to kids?” My heart smiled big as I knew that was a sign of how much he enjoyed our time together and how much he loved trying to get all of his questions answered. These questions ranged from are there monsters in the lake to his drawing of dolphins and trying to spell it. As always, the girls and I loved each moment with all of the beautiful children in our family.
On Sunday, we went to my brother-in-law’s church where he preached a wonderful message as he always does. His heart is for God, and God uses him mightily in the lives of many. After church those that were remaining went out to eat at a catfish buffet. Before we left to eat, I was standing with my mother-in-law at the front of the church visiting. There was a lady from the church who was complimenting my mother-in-law while she was talking. My mother-in-law grabbed my arm and told the women, “This is my lady right here.” With tears in her eyes, Nana told the lady how determined that I have been to keep my two girls as involved with the family as possible. Nana truly understands my intent and purpose in my actions. Her tears in her eyes reminded me how much it means to her that she is able to stay involved and close to the children of her own son that she had to bury. The woman from the church did not really grasp the depth and meaning of what Nana was saying to her as she continued on to talk about other items. Nana and I did. She went on and explained to the lady and said, “Most people do not do this. They just go on in their own lives.” Nana and I shared a look of understanding that is dear to both of our hearts.
As we looked at each other in our shared grief and gratitude, Nana and I had a deep understanding. Nana and I both understand the blessing of having Kirk’s girls together with the family for all who are present. We understand the blessing that it is for his girls and for his family. Nana’s words and tears blessed my heart probably more than she will ever understand. Nana’s tears and words showed me her own gratitude and her understanding of one of my goals and purposeful actions through these past seven years without her son. What a gift those tears and words will always be to my heart. Oh how I love you sweet mom and Nana who we are so blessed to have in our lives.
In your grief and pain, I strongly encourage you to continue to be a part of the lives of those you care about. Sometimes when people are hurting and/or grieving then they isolate themselves from others or activities in attempt to avoid what they believe will be painful times. I will share that there are moments of family time that can be extremely painful. One example of this for me is when all of the family pictures are taken. It is painful for me to watch the family picture where my husband should have been standing with his mom and brothers and sisters. It is painful for me to watch the family picture of all of the grandchildren where my son should have been standing with all of his cousins. I could choose to not go because those moments and others are painful on my grief journey.
I have decided to make a different choice that I believe is important for my two incredible daughters and for my own grief journey. I do not want to avoid times with our family or others or events because they are painful. Even though my heart hurts, I want to celebrate my daughters and all of those in our lives who continue to live. Instead of avoiding, I want to continue to learn to live the best that I am able to in my grief and in thankfulness for each moment that we did have with our guys. I do not want to run from the grief because it hurts my heart. I want to continue to learn and grow and to be the best that I can and honor those that we have lost too soon. I hope that each of you continue to learn how to do these things with me as we all continue on our individual journeys. We are thankful for each one of you who are traveling with us.
“There is no way to explain how it feels to forever miss someone you love. When someone is forever frozen in the past, a part of us is also there. It doesn’t mean that joy cannot be found again. It does mean that we need to honor that part of us.” Author Unknown