In July, I made the long pilgrimage to my ancestral home here in the United States, the beautiful state of Minnesota where my mother’s family has resided for 140 years. We went to be family and celebrate all the things of life: birth, marriage and death. All these events came together in one weekend that called the family together.
My mother passed away in November after a long decline. She was 87 and had lived a wonderful and full life. I’d been taking care of her for the last 6 years and her care had taken a toll on me the last couple of years. Since 2009 I’d been taking care of both Hamilton’s and my parents, a job I was very willing to take on but was a constant responsibility and a lot of sadness. My mother was the final parent in my care. Now it was time to lay her to rest next to my father in the family cemetery on a beautiful hill in northern Minnesota. A long and arduous era of my life was closing and this was my final duty.
My great-great grandparents immigrated from Sweden in the 1880 and found a new home in Minnesota, a land so like their homeland. My great-grandparents met in the little local church and married and soon had a large family on the homestead by the lake. There the generations would gather throughout the decades, carrying on a bond that was formed by the land. Their beautiful Swedish/American farm nurtured the family-we always felt called to come home in the summers to be together, swim in the lake, eat delicious meals and most of all breath the fresh air of the land. It was the love of family that held us together but the land provided that essential container for our love.
The morning of my mother’s 88th birthday we gathered once more on the land where my great-grandparents met and married. The church is gone but the graves of the parishioners still remain. Over 25 of my ancestors are buried there—four generations of Olsons and Lindblads. Four generations gathered to remember their lives and place my mother’s ashes next to my father and amongst her beloved Swedish family. That morning, seven generation were together on that hillside, including cousins who still live in Sweden. I placed vases with flowers on all their graves, remembering them individually, remembering the others that are buried around the country. We remembered my mother and her love of beauty. We were so happy to have her back in her homeland. Two days later I gathered all the vases and laid the flowers on my mother headstone. It felt like a welcome from her beloved family into their arms. It was a fitting closure to her life. And it was closure to my long journey helping beloved parents to their final resting place.
The next day my cousins Abby and Fred were commemorating their second anniversary with a long-awaited family celebration. They have recently purchased beautiful lake property and were gathering the family to enjoy another Minnesota summer. The land was different but yet the same. The property was once again a beautiful container for our love and family. The evening ended with a fire in one of my cousin Charlies’ magnificent burning sculptures. We sat around the sparking, roaring fire– capturing the imagination and lighting something deep in our ancestral bones.
Over the weekend we had the best news of all, a new baby in the family. Cousins Erich and Amanda have a new baby girl—Aletha Jane. We were so happy for her safe arrival and beautiful newborn pictures. But we were also thrilled with her name. She is the 7th member of the family to have the name Aletha—a very special name for all of us. It is mine and Caroline’s middle name as well as my grandmother, aunt, cousin, and niece. The family continues to hold the love of family through our name.
Americans are so interested in their ancestral heritage. Ancestry is part of what defines us and gives roots to our lives. My mother was very proud of her Swedish ancestry, and we carry on some of the traditions in a very Americanized way. It was the land that held those memories together for so many generations. I still hold those generations in my heart but now I like to think of those as a deeper part of me but I have become less tied to that heritage and feel that fading to the background. My family has been in America for generations now and has loosened the ties to other homelands. We are Americans now, a heritage that has built its own traditions. So I enjoy the moments of looking back and honoring the ancestors, but now my life is free to look forward to a time without caregiving. A time to lean even more fully into my life and my voice. Yes, the echoes of the ancestors, the family will always be there, but the future has arrived and I want to enjoy the unfolding.