Wealthy in family

Just under a year ago my family said goodbye to my pa and in his memory I dedicated my April 2015 article to him. In that article I described him as a quiet and unassuming man of faith, and that he was. That being said, as he aged, this quiet nature played a dual role in my life. I was able to learn more about the man that he was in his early, working life, as he recounted memories of a time long past easier than he did facts of the current time.

However, this meant that our relationship in the present revolved more heavily on very basic and easy to grasp concepts. For example, while he knew that I was in school, we didn’t engage in lengthy conversations about what I was studying or what that would mean for my future.  Please do not get me wrong — I treasured every moment I was blessed with in pa’s presence, and for many reasons. I was able to witness the beautiful relationship between my father and my grandfather, see a patience emerge in what I have come to believe is one of the most difficult times in the parent/child relationship. 

So why am I telling you this? Because in many ways I wish I had gotten to know my pa the way my dad had had the opportunity to do as his son. I wish I had a more intimate peek into what I know was a life of hard work, strong family, and undying love between pa and my nana. My rationale extends far beyond me sharing with you what I wish I could have had, though, because I did receive a special gift in the midst of all of this. They say God works in mysterious ways, and I don’t know if it’s mysterious so much as it is well-planned. Since high school, I’ve had a close relationship with my dad’s cousins. This started when dad decided that with the elders of the family — his parents and his aunts and uncles- beginning to age, it was time to host family reunions. Before they were no longer with us to share their stories and leave their legacies, it was our responsibility to provide our family an opportunity to learn from them and to celebrate them. And so that we did. 

Early in high school, we started having the reunions at my house, and those gatherings were the foundation for so many of the bonds I have now with my “aunts” and “uncles” — dad’s cousins. With the mantra “respect your elders” in mind, something my brother and I had been taught from as far back as I can remember learning manners and the way of the world, I built not only relationships of respect with my extended family, but had fun and fulfilling conversations with them, laughed with them, and listened as they recounted memories from their childhood. Being in Virginia I miss those gatherings, but know that one day I’ll be back to share smiles again. In fact, being home over winter break provided me with an opportunity to spend time with the man behind this article’s theme and title — wealthy in family.

My Uncle Pete is pa’s brother and the father of several of those aunts and uncles. Though older than pa, he had a sharp memory and easy nature, that made conversation engaging and easy. He read The Anchor religiously, and without fail, each time I saw him, he made sure to tell me that he’d read my latest article and that he approved. He had a smile that could brighten a room, and when he saw you coming towards him, it was as if you were the only person in the room and he’d been waiting to see you for ages. He was a special man, and I’ll miss him greatly; Uncle Pete joined pa in a world much greater than ours two weeks ago. But before he did so, we were able to share a visit in which he was as chatty as usual, sharing memories from his past, stories from long ago. What will stick with me forever, is when he recalled not having much when he was growing up, but being wealthy in family. And wealthy in family we are.

Only within the past week or so have I been able to realize the depth of the blessing of Uncle Pete in my life. With pa’s memory being so challenged as he aged, Uncle Pete remembered. He asked questions, he smiled, he hugged. And in so many ways, he saved me from the anger I felt so strongly at what was happening with my pa. Like I said, it’s taken me until now to fully examine the relationship we shared, and thus it prompts me to ask you to take some time to consider those relationships that you have in your life — for be it our family on earth or our family in Christ, we are indeed wealthy.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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