If the summer of 2020 was the summer of cancelled reunions, memorials, and weddings, then the summer of 2021 has been the summer of resuming important family gatherings. As of this writing, vaccinated gatherings have felt relatively safe and so very imperative, but the rise of the Delta variant of COVID is beginning to cast a shadow on late August and autumn events.
After our mother died in October 2020, and we were able to have only the smallest internment service for her, my sisters and I began dreaming of a large family reunion to celebrate our mom and mark the passing of her generation as we four stepped into the role of elders. In this blog I record the absolute joy and privilege of a Brown Family Reunion/Memorial for our Mother that occurred in mid-June.
My three sisters and I started planning in December 2020 before there were vaccinations. Two things seemed clear—it needed to be in Colorado where our family had vacationed for decades, and we wanted lots of outdoor activities because that’s what our family always did on those Colorado vacations.
We settled on Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA Camp of the Rockies, and reserved lodge rooms for mid-June. It was a huge leap of faith. Spring came. Vaccines arrived. We got the shots. People began to register. Nearly every living descendant came—53 people, ages 1-76—from Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington. We are a diverse lot—age, sex, race, religion, and political affiliation. We are united by our love for our dearly departed matriarch, our shared joy in nature/outdoor adventure, and loyalty to the values this family has practiced since Mom and Dad married in 1948. Time together helped us be our best selves.
How do you weave a diverse, far flung family together to pull off an event with such unity? You plan. You trust. You jump in and have fun together. For our family I think the shared outdoor adventures were key because that is the culture that our parents had set in place for over 50 years. And most certainly you need a measure of good luck.
A collage of activity photos is included below. We supported each other to participate in activities ranging from horseback riding to high ropes adventure to zip lines to bicycle riding to hiking to making crafts to swimming to tubing to eating s’mores around bonfires.
The narrative I focus on here is the high adventure ropes course because it was an important event for my small part of the big family. My daughter wanted this listed on our choices of activities because we had done this type of thing when she was a child. “I have a fear of heights and I want to challenge myself,” she said.
On a beautiful early June evening several dozen of us walked or drove down to the ropes course. Located in a circle of pines in the forested mountain bowl of Snow Mountain Ranch, an event called the Giant’s ladder and the Leap of Faith pole were rigged by a group of young staff. We gathered for instruction.
High ropes courses are all about individual challenge with team support. Participants are carefully fitted into a parachute type harness and hooked to safety lines called ‘belays’ held by staff and team members.
Our 16-year-old grandson, Jaden, was one of the first to climb the 40-foot utility pole and jump off wearing his harness. After watching several other family members, including some that did not make it to the top but turned around halfway up, our ten-year-old granddaughter, Sasha, said she wanted to try. She harnessed up and reached for the first foot peg and slowly made her way up to the tiny wooden platform at the top to the cheers of dozens—most loudly her big brother. With hesitancy on that little swaying platform, she trusted her harness and herself to leap off. As her father said, “I felt like she left a lot of the anxiety from a year of Covid homeschool and little socialization up there on that tiny wooden ledge. It was very emotional for me to watch.”
“OK, now I have to try,” said my daughter. There is nothing natural about climbing to the top of a high, slightly swaying pole and then jumping off. It wasn’t easy for Sally, but slowly she climbed, carefully managing her hands and feet. The support crew of aunts, uncles, cousins, and, of course, her family encouraged her to leap and trust that we who belayed her would slowly lower her to the ground. Once on the ground she was in the middle of a hug from Sasha, Jaden, Joe, Nina, and I.
After several more people and children climbed, Jaden wanted to try again. This time he had the goal of jumping off and catching the trapeze bar swinging seemingly just out of reach—something our young guide said less than 10% of participants accomplish. The friendly crowd grew silent when Jaden perched on that little platform. It was like being a spectator at an Olympic event—we could feel the young athlete’s focus and concentration and did not want to interrupt it. With every ounce of strength in his young body he flew and caught the bar! Cheers, laughter, high fives . . . it was a raucous moment out there in the pines. Afterwards I reflected to Jaden, “If you focus yourself, you can do anything you want to. That was impressive!”
I was up next. Someone in the grandmother generation needed to do this! I made no attempt to leap for the bar—sure did not want to throw a shoulder out. But I found it fun to trust that harness and leap. And for sure the cheers from everyone were helpful. Once down and getting out of the harness, I admit to a certain pride in being called a “bad ass grandma” by one of my nephews.
This was one of many events in our five-day gathering. All of them were focused on choice, empowerment, and team building. And all of them built a strength of togetherness that culminated in the final evening memorial service for mom.
The memorial happened the last evening in the chapel after four days of eating, talking, and adventuring together. The field of connection was strongly woven at that point. The service had participation from all three generations remaining in the Brown family. Our historian sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, put together an amazing video of mom’s life with live footage of her talking. Each of us other three sisters spoke. Mom’s musical talent rested in her grandchildren, and they played the piano and sang with beauty—Molly, Anna, and Frank. Thanks also to Erica and Jaden for their heartfelt words. And thank you to our three cousins who came to represent the fact that their Aunt Astrid was the last of the Svedlund women. Not a dry eye in the room. A homespun service of great heart and meaning.
Photos of our time together