It was Family Weekend.

Family Weekend is notoriously hard. 

Family Weekend is, I guess obviously, the annual weekend when families of the head injured residents where Eddie lives come for a fun filled time.  There are themes and awards and games.  Even though everyone smiles and cheers, it’s always difficult because we are celebrating the lives of our loved ones who have been morphed into new folks.   It could be like celebrating butterflies, but it feels more like celebrating collisions. 

It’s gotten more difficult over the past ten years as the facility, once a national model, has fallen into stale routines and relationships, much like families often do.  So the cheers have been limp, and the smiles forced.

But we all go.  The out-of-towners go because they get in a visit.  The in-towners, like me, go because if you don’t your poor brother is seen as a loser without a family.  In the old days the events were at least more fun and community based.  We had big, real barbeques.  We loved the individual awards given each client.  They were the highlight of the weekend for they reflected the true friendship and intimacy between the staff and clients.  In more recent past they have seemed trite and read lifelessly as families ate stale sandwiches.  Few listened.

This year Ed won the Peanut M & M award.  He said, “Whoop dido!” with a sarcasm that would shame a fourteen year old who just got a buck in her birthday card.

Anyway, it’s been hard for many years, now.  This year, this year of me trying to engage in Ed’s life, I met with staff and did say how much I hated Family Weekend.  Mostly I focused on the food.  I was not ready to talk about the pain aspect.

So, I must admit, the food was at least 60% better than the previous five or so years of saran wrapped sandwiches and a hard, green peach.  This year the sandwiches came from a really good sandwich place….not a barbeque…which is a lot more fun that a packaged sandwich…but an improvement. 

And there was a drum corps that actually found a pulse in the crowd.  We smiled.  We tapped our feet.  We talked to other families.  There ya go.

A pulse.

Every year Ed says he does not want to participate in family weekend because it is “bull s***”.  So every year I make other plans. Every year on the Thursday before the weekend he calls and asks if I am coming to Family Weekend.  This year was no exception.

“Are you coming to Family Weekend?” he asks.

I don’t point out that he told me he didn’t want to do Family Weekend this year just two weeks ago.

“Do you want me to come?” I ask.

“Do you want to come?” he asks.

“Do you want me to come?” I ask.

“Well, it’s probably good to have a family on Family Weekend,” he says.

“I’ll be there,” I say.

It was a much better picnic, though the awards were “Whoop dido.”

We offered to take Ed to a movie after the picnic, in keeping with the Family Weekend theme.

On the way to the movie Ed asked if I saw our mom much.

“No…not enough,” I said.

“Do you visit when you go?” he asked.

“Of course, that’s what you do,” I say.

He laughs.

“It’s hard to go,” I say. 

“Yeah,” he says quietly.

As we drive to the movie I feel a pang of pain…that horrid pain of guilt mixed with regret with feeling sorry for myself.  I think about all the Family Weekends we went to as a large family with my mother and sister and our kids.  It was surreal. They had a 5-K run that was like a zombie race and made us laugh for year.  It was the only time I allowed myself to eat hot dogs, because it reminded me of our childhood living across the street from a park.  Ed won awards that made him smile because they were inside jokes between him and the staff.

We drop off Ed.  I vow to help make next year’s Family Weekend’s heart beat even stronger.

Driving home I say to the man I live with whose name rhymes with Heaven, “Thanks.”

“For what?” he asks.

“For going to Family Weekend,” I say.

“It’s Family Weekend, that’s what you do,” he then mock-references our daughter’s favorite childhood movie, Lilo and Stitch,  “Ohana, means ‘No one gets out of Family Weekend.”

I come home to a call from Eddie saying, “Hi Beth, I wanted to thank you for being my family on Family Weekend.  It made the Family Weekend bearable.” 

Yeah…next year.