Last week my grandpa had a serious heart surgery and I flew home from the city to see him. My sister, Kara, picked me up from the airport in Minneapolis and we drove to the hospital in St. Cloud where our parents, grandparents, and my Aunt Lori were all gathered. Our cousin, Tate, got leave from the Marines and was able to come home as well! He and Kara were updating each other about the traffic on the way, and he finally caught up to us just as we were getting to St. Cloud. Thank God, because we just followed him the rest of the way to the hospital. I guarantee we would have gotten lost.

I thought both Grandpa and Grandma looked older, but Grandpa was as chipper as ever, cracking jokes with a smiling face. We walked in the door and he said, “There’s my girls!” We were reminiscing about 14 years past when he’d had a double bypass and we came to see him. I was six years old. I remember very clearly walking him around the hospital with my sister on the other side of him, his big hands held by our tiny fingers. This next part I don’t remember, but Papa did: apparently I looked up at him and said, “Grandpa, I’m going to be a nurse!” Ha – look how well that turned out :] That day was a lovely time with family. In the early evening before we left, we stood around for prayer. Grandma’s voice was soft and gentle, but all I could hear in the otherwise silence was Grandpa’s breathing. When we said “Amen” and I opened my eyes…I have never seen Papa cry. Spluttering out “I love you”s to each who went to hug him. He’s never hugged me that tightly. My first thought was He doesn’t think he’s gonna survive this. He thinks this is goodbye. I lost it. On the ride to our hotel Kara was going on: “Grandpa’s not gonna die. Is he? No. No. Grandpa’s not gonna die. He can’t die.” That night Tate, Kara and I hung out in a hotel suite and watched movies, not thinking about what it would be like to see Grandma if they came to us with bad news.

The next day, the day of the surgery, I woke up feeling incredibly calm and peaceful about the whole situation. He’d survived this long, he was not just going to die in a hospital. We did puzzles to pass the time. Got about 1/3 through one with dolphins when we got the news that Papa had pulled through! When we went to see him in ICU after he woke up he already looked pinker in the cheeks. Now he’s back home at the farm and on the way to recovery! I thank everyone who’s thoughts and prayers were with us and our family.

It’s so heartwarming to have such a close-knit family. I’ve been blessed to have close families both by blood and by friendship. It’s strengthening to see us all together and also to see my Grandma’s love for Papa, the way she watched him or touched his arm both before and after the surgery. I know people who don’t believe in love or think marriage always ends in either divorce or unhappiness, but I’ve been blessed to witness such a direct contradiction to those beliefs – such a deep and lasting love, it’s impossible for me to not believe in it. Married 52 years, and now able to be together for longer.

It’s a beautiful thing, love. It comes in many different forms. I see many of these different ways and capacities for love in all of my families all of the time. I saw it at the hospital through our prominent blood ties, and I’ve felt it this last week from my Chicago family – no blood claims, but just as strong a bond. More and more recently I have been thankful every day for the people I can call family. They give me grief and give me pain and a couple of them will probably put me in a mental institution, but they also give me strength and help me live. Some of them aren’t very good at showing they care, but they’re the ones who’ve helped teach me how to love and how to accept and forgive and embrace…and that’s what life is really about. I admit, life often sucks, and may not seem worth it, but it is and it’s the people who make it so. I know I would be lost without those dearest to me. I don’t want to think about what would have happened to me in the last 20 years – in the last 20 weeks – without having them in my life. They give me courage and motivation. They keep me going. Love is a very powerful thing. But I think family, in whatever form it takes, is even more so.