Earlier this summer I spent a wonderful weekend with my extended family on my father’s side. My father was the third youngest from a family of 8 in Saskatchewan. Years ago, some of his siblings started organizing family reunions, both in Saskatchewan and on the West Coast where many of my cousins now live. Although I have helped organized and enjoyed many other family reunions before, this particular family reunion seemed the most special to me. As I thought about it after, I realized that it is now my generation that are the senior family now. With only one of my dad’s siblings still alive, Uncle Ernie (who we affectionately call “the Godfather”), it is totally up to my generation of cousins to keep the family ties together. As I laughed, ate, played games and took pictures with my extended family during the weekend I felt so much gratitude to be surrounded by such a loving family One of the best parts was seeing my first cousins children, children’s new spouses and brand new grandchildren. As our reunions are organized for every 3 years, there is always a lot of change happening. Sitting around after lunch with some of my first cousins, we reminisced about past reunions and family parties and realized that in order to keep this family together in the future, the next generation would soon have to start learning the ropes from us “seniors”. So why are family reunions such an important tradition? Is it worth all the work involved to organize these big family “get togethers”? I though a little research on my part was in order. What I found was that was not much information on the internet about why family reunions are important. Here’s what I found: Samuel T. Gladding, professor and chairman of the counseling department at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., states “If you don’t have some exposure to extended family, you will never truly get to know them. It takes time, effort and expense to be in the same place with them. The dividend is that you get to know them, and then you can build a relationship. That’s how people grow.” It is especially important for seniors to have the opportunity to share their stories with the younger generation. One of the developmental stages of adulthood is engaging in storytelling and reminiscing.
- Gene Cohen, author of “The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain” notes that “in the second half of our life we are driven to sum up our lives and share our wisdom”. What better place and opportunity then when the whole family is gathered around the pool or campfire?
Personal historians such as Diane Dassow, founder of Binding Legacies, a company that facilitates the writing of life stories for clients, points out that the telling of family stories makes the children and grandchildren become more interested in their relative’s lives. “Personal history is a wonderful way to keep alive memories, hopes, dreams, and values of our elders to connect family members who live at a distance by sharing their common heritage.” One thing I noticed in my research was that in some families, one or two people seemed to do all the organizing for every reunion. I think that one of the things that has worked so well for my dad’s family is that different groups take a reunion. Once that reunion is completed we pass the “family banner” on to another part of the family. A huge part of the fun as an organizer is getting to know your fellow cousins better as we meet during the months before.
I must note that my sister was voted to organize the next one. Hmmm, guess who is going to get roped in?
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