Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gatherings of Friends and Family - Joys and Sorrows

I considered making this two posts but since the events were right on top of each other I kept it as one. Pictures from Laughlin and Oatman may make a separate post later.

Every April several of us gather in Laughlin, Nevada, for a high school/town reunion of sorts. We didn't go to school in Laughlin, but our town doesn't exist anymore. Unlike current graduating classes that number in the 100's, the graduating classes of Eagle Mountain, California, averaged in the 40's. The year of graduation marks milestone gatherings like 25 years and 40 years, but a lot of us make it every year that we can. Being from a small town/school, we knew parents and siblings who also show up. Teachers and coaches join us (still weird to drink and swear with them). Many spouses have become part of the family as well. Because the high school closed with the town when the Kaiser Steel Mine shut down in 1983, these gatherings are bittersweet for us. There are still many we knew as friends who don't come to the gatherings and every year we miss them. Others have passed away without ever returning and those opportunities are lost forever.

This year was Bill's 40th reunion (mine was last year) and with 23 of the 48 in attendance (7 have passed away), it was a great turnout. One couple who married two days after graduation came from Texas for the first time. He and Bill were good friends and she and I were as well, so the four of us enjoyed getting caught up on a short road trip to Oatman, AZ. We were also looking forward to spending time with another very good friend who graduated with Bill, and his wonderful wife of 30 years. Last year we spent a little time with them and have been looking forward to another chance to get caught up. As expected we had so much fun with them. They have a pad and hookups at their home in Tombstone so we also modified our initial route to include their place next year.

On Sunday we took the Jeep out in the desert and revisited the area where we played a couple years ago with rented ATVs. Some dirt roads, a lot of trails through washes and around rocks (scraped over one - oops), a short hike at the end of the first road - good fun! The plan was to turn around and return the way we came but at every opportunity we just kept going forward. When we came to some buildings with an old rv parked at the top of a hill we figured there must be a more civilized route from the other side. Yep, another turn found us back on dirt roads amongst houses with a view of Lake Mohave! Although short, it was still a great time bouncing and bumping out in the desert, and we returned to the hotel with lots of dirt, dust and scratches on the Jeep as souvenirs of our adventure.

This year we stayed Sunday night and had dinner and drinks with a smaller group of good friends. It was another highlight of the weekend wrapped up with great live music outside on the river-walk.

Monday afternoon we were back home to a wild welcome from Tessa and more happy memories of good times with old friends.

Tuesday our focus took a sharp turn toward immediate family. Our sister-in-law Marilynn called in tears having just met with Wayne's (Bill's older brother) doctors. She was given a decision that none of us ever want to make. After conversations with the family, all agreed that Wayne's wishes must be honored. Things expected to move quickly and we waited for the inevitable next phone call.

Wayne's kids and their spouses along with the oldest grandson, cousin and spouse, and daughter-in-law were with Marilynn in his room on Wednesday. We were still expecting "that " call. By the afternoon it was clear Wayne had a different itinerary and we decided it was time for the drive to Napa on Thursday morning.

During our drive the news from the hospital varied from "he's singing to us" to "Wayne says hurry." The last 15 miles were hell. The cars crawling on Hwy 29 had little regard for my need to get Bill to his brother before he passed - arrggh! Upon arrival it was "you'd better hurry." We got to the room, and with a raspy voice Wayne chastised us for taking "soooo long."

The next two days we gathered with Wayne and family at St Helena Hospital, then headed home at noon on Saturday. Multiple family members kept Wayne entertained, and at times Wayne was the entertainer. Some times he was with us and others he was far away. His wife and daughters took turns holding vigil each night. He spoke with his mom on the phone who had him chuckling, and he approved the tattoo pattern for those who want to remember him that way. The brothers shared memories and their love of music in quiet, intermittent moments of lucidity. Saturday was quieter than the day before. It was borrowed time that everyone needed and will always be grateful for.

Dying is hard and very sad. More so than death. Uncertainty is cruel and exhausting. Only a family who loves deeply from the heart while still listening to each other with their heads will truly survive it. The Gravel(le)s will be just fine.

Today is Sunday and Wayne still has unfinished business. Maybe he needs to say goodbye to the cat. Nobody knows. Arrangements are being made to move him home for hospice care. His will is stubborn but his fragile body may not survive the mountain roads. That call is still coming.



  1. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother-in-law. Glad you were able to visit with him again.

  2. My, what a blog post. Happy times and sad time. I wish I had words that would bring comfort,What I can do it pray for your family.