Full Circle

Recently my family was blessed in being able to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. My parents wanted it to be spent with family. They spent a lot of time trying to find a means to bring us all together for several days somewhere. This meant all five of my siblings and me, their spouses, our children and their spouses and children. No small feat to take on bringing 27 people to gather for the occasion for a week long celebration. Mom and Dad wanted their present to be the presence of their family. And we all wanted to anchor this milestone and gift that they have given us in their commitment to marriage.

In theory this is a wonderful concept. But, I have to admit, I was skeptical. I knew it would be a financial issue for some, even though the trip was being covered by my parents. And I know that being with your family of origin for any significant length of time can bring out all kinds of old family patterns and dynamics and I had to wonder if we could manage to make it a good memorable event. It isn’t so much that the family doesn’t get along, it is more that we all lead busy lives and so we lose touch with each other in connecting in intimate ways. This can lead to actions and people being misunderstood. Or sometimes it is just a matter of having too much family and tolerances wear thin.

And then there was the major feat of setting a date, finding a means to celebrate that would encompass a fun time for all ages and generations. And after the date was set, could each family and their children actually get time off, make the commitment to spend their vacation with their extended family, and show up after being invited?

My parents decided on a cruise. They felt that this would best give everyone something to do and fit everyone’s idea of what a vacation could be.

The date was set and my parents surged forward to make this idea into a reality.

My mom worked for days on end buying airline tickets for each family, one by one, setting up hotel accommodations as each family was to arrive the day before the cruise embarked, and getting the cruise rooms lined up for each family member, trying to meet the needs as best she could. She stressed about the details, hoping not to miss anything that might upset the balance of things.

For our part the children (actually the grandchildren first) started the process of planning the details for the party that we would surprise them with on the ship. One grandchild gathered video from all the families to create a masterpiece of memories filled with laughter and tears. Another grandchild worked to get the room reserved, cake ordered, and coordinated communication from all the family to fill in the gaps for what was needed for the evening. The siblings gathered together via conference calls and email to sort out ideas that all could agree on and participate in. We settled on little things like wearing specially printed shirts the first day so that we could find each other when we arrived on the ship, watching hours of home videos so we could mark the important films that needed to be considered for the final product, making a book of memories, ordering gold bow ties for all the men and boys to wear on the night of the “golden anniversary”, and planning a treasure hunt for my parents to do via clues to get them to the final destination on that evening.

So we arrived with good intentions yet a bit cautious. And the process began. Monday we began to reconnect and began the time of “being together”. Tuesday was the day of the event. We planned the treasure hunt and dressed for the formal dinner. Photographers were on hand to snap pictures before the dinner. So the 27 of us stepped up and in 10 minutes the photographer caught the moment, the energy, and the unity of the group. We went to dinner where we toasted mom and dad and each thanked them for the important things that impacted our lives as children, and the evening moved on.

After lots of laughing through the treasure hunt, Mom and Dad arrived at the room of celebration. They listened as the children told them “what they never knew”. The stories came out with us reminiscing of our younger days together, laughing, and drawing us back to a time of years ago, but still found in our hearts as if yesterday. The younger children listened to the stories and laughed as they caught a glimpse of what life was like when we were the children.

And then we settled down to watch the film that was created to take us back again. And we were taken back. We laughed and we laughed and then we were teleported to some very sentimental moments where the room was filled with tears and just as they were beginning to stream, the film would turn to a moment of laughter again…just like growing up was…there was laughter…and there were tears….and as a family we always pulled together and moved forward just as we did with our own children.

After that night the rest of the trip was sailing free as we had reopened the parts of our relationships that were important to remember…the reason we as separate human beings were all brought together…we came together as a family….all of us different…but all of us a part of the whole…and I looked at my mother and my father, the core of the group. I was very aware of their love for each of us…and that even though things happened and life was not always perfect, they did the best they knew how…and I couldn’t help but feel a deep respect and love for them. Life was not perfect for me in my growing up years and there have been times of remembering that more than remembering the rest of the story. But in that moment I knew they did the best they knew how… and I realized that being a parent isn’t easy and hoped that my children would come full circle when thinking of their parents, seeing the humanness of their parents, forgiving them for past issues and loving them for their intentions of loving their children in the best way they knew how.

And as we left the boat on Friday we were all given a silent but golden moment to realize that we want to live with no regrets as one of my sisters-in-law received news that her sister had died. And I couldn’t help but be grateful for that time on the boat with the entire family because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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