There’s a reason our annual pilgrimage is so important to us.
It isn’t for a swim in the lake.
As fun as the gator is, it’s not worth the hours in the car.
The farm is beautiful, but that’s not it either.
The reason we go is because of Tim’s grandparents.
I never knew either of my grandfathers (though I met one of them a couple of times when I was very young), let alone any of my great-grandparents.
My twenties gifted me with an unwelcome case of PTSD which manifested itself in anxiety and panic attacks which stemmed from living just down the street from the World Trade Center on 9-11 during my college days.
I learned early on that my symptoms were triggered when I was in an unfamiliar place. Going to a mall or restaurant was hard. I eyed every exit. I scrutinized everyone around me. I heard every noise, saw every movement. I was waiting for it to happen again.
As the years progressed, my world got smaller and smaller. It got easier to turn down offers to hang out. I liked my little house. I was comfortable with my routine. I knew where I was ‘safe.’ But even I knew I couldn’t stay there, so I began to fight it tooth and nail. I would try to do things and fail. I would end up a blubbering mess in my bed convinced my brain would never heal.
When Tim and I got engaged he wanted to take me to his family reunion to see his grandparents. (I had met them before, and had even visited their farm when we were younger, but not in a ‘family’ capacity.) I agreed to go, only to back out at the last minute. I couldn’t do it. It was too far. It was too unfamiliar.
When we got married, he asked me to go again and goodness I tried. We got in the car and we hadn’t even gone an hour when I was vomiting on the side of the road, begging to go home. He turned us around and dropped me off and went without me.
I felt like a failure. I had disappointed my husband and myself. I knew by the look on his face that while he wasn’t mad at me, he was incredibly sad.
The year C was born, Tim didn’t go to visit his grandparents. It was too close to my due date so he stayed home. Holding C in my arms, I vowed to myself I would keep trying for her. I would not let my illness define her upbringing.
Much to everyone’s surprise (mine included) the following summer we visited them three times. I can’t tell you what it felt like to pull into their driveway and see them. They hugged me. They welcomed me. Immediately I felt at home. It had been a goal for so long and when I finally conquered it, that place became my happy place and I absolutely fell in love with them. Every year since then we have made it a point to take time to visit. We try to go up a few extra days before the reunion in order to get more time with them. We love watching our children interact with them. Last year I watched as their great grandfather taught them how to put up their tent. I’ve seen Baby E fall asleep in great grandma’s arms. I love listening to the all the family stories. Without them ever knowing it, they were a huge part of my healing process and I am so grateful for them.
So this year I was so excited that 22 of their 26 great grandchildren were able to make it to the reunion. (They even have a great-great grandson, but he was not able to attend.) Watching all the kids crowd around for this picture was such a wonderful moment. What a blessing indeed!