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The Family Reunion

As Charlotte waited in the banquet hall, she began to have mixed feelings. She had planned the reunion very carefully, and had been dishonest with her children. She had to be, as it was the only way she knew to get her family together in one place at the same time. Over the past thirty years, the family had scattered throughout the country and disagreements between her children had caused the family unit to fracture into many separate parts.

It was too late to change things. Besides, it had to be this year. It was now or never. “I’m too old for this,” thought Charlotte. She was seventy-five years old and the mother of twelve grown children, ranging in age from thirty-six to fifty-two. She had raised them mostly on her own, since her husband died thirty-seven years earlier.

For Charlotte, the weekend was not only about bringing her family together, but also was about revealing secrets. Some secrets, she had hidden from her children for most of their lives, and some new secrets as well. Revealing the new secrets could be more devastating than the older ones.

Planning the reunion had been quite tricky. Charlotte had to convince each of her children that it would be a one on one visit with her. Charlotte sent airline tickets to each of her children and their families. She had to make sure that none of their flights would arrive at the airport at the same time. She made reservations for each of the families at different hotels throughout the city, and paid for the rooms in advance so that they wouldn’t change hotels. She herself had a room at a thirteenth hotel.

Charlotte had told each of her children what time to meet her at her hotel. Charlotte was lost in thought, when she heard Andy’s voice and the voices of is family. As she headed over to meet him, Carl and his family arrived. Carl and Andy had not talked to each other in several years after they had a falling out. As tensions mounted, the others began arriving, including Steve, Lisa, Dave, Ellen, John, Karen, Rachel, Kyle, Janet and Sandy, as well as their spouses, children and grandchildren.

The banquet hall was large enough to hold the more than one hundred family members. Soon a miracle began to happen. As the siblings began talking to each other and introducing their family members, the tension began to dissolve. Soon, the younger grandchildren and great-grandchildren were running around the room and the older cousins had their cell-phones out, sharing photos and taking photos of their relatives some of which they had never met.

At one point of the afternoon, a few of Charlotte’s daughters and daughters-in-law thanked Charlotte for tricking her family and bringing everyone together for the first time in over twenty years.

That evening after dinner, there was time for dancing and reminiscing before the families were ready to return to their respective hotels for the night. Charlotte told her children that breakfast would be at nine, and then, everyone would be heading to a local park that she had reserved for the day. Charlotte informed them that after dinner the following day, she wanted to meet with all of her children.

At the park the next day, most of the family had a great time playing softball, football and volleyball. Lunch was catered by a local restaurant and included picnic type foods and drinks. As Charlotte watched her family having a good time, she realized that she had made the right decision in bringing the family back together. She began to wonder if she had been right about her other decisions as well.

That evening, after dinner, while the rest of the family remained in the banquet hall, Charlotte and her twelve children were led to a private conference room to have a family meeting. When everyone was seated around the table, Charlotte began speaking. “Before I get to the main topic of this meeting,” she said, “I want every one of you to promise that the entire family will get together at least once every five years, if not sooner. This is very important to me, as I’m sure it is to all of you.”

After everyone promised that they would do a better job of staying in touch with each other, and start having regular family reunions, Charlotte took a deep breath and began speaking again. “I am well aware that many, if not all of you have resented me for the way I raised you while you were growing up. But, you have to understand it from my point of view. In order to keep all twelve of you together, I had to work two jobs. I did whatever I had to do to keep the family together. I know that you older ones had to give up extracurricular activities to look after your younger brothers and sisters, but there was no other way. After the first seven of you were born, your father and I decided to stop there, but a year later, Kevin and Rachel were born. Then, two years later, I discovered I was pregnant again, but, not until after your father’s funeral. I was surprised as anyone when I gave birth to triplets, but I don’t regret it, as I love each and every one of you. If any of you want to say anything to me or ask me anything, feel free to do it now. No topic is off limits.”

After hesitating for a moment, Steve spoke up. “As the oldest, I remember Dad a little bit more than the others,” he said. “He was a big shot lawyer and he had a lot of money. I think that after he died, you mismanaged the money and made poor financial decisions. If you had invested wisely, and cut down on spending, you wouldn’t have had to work two jobs and we would have had money for college, instead of paying back thousands of dollars in student loans for several years.”

From the nodding of heads by some of the other children, Charlotte realized that they agreed with Steve. “I loved your father very much,” said Charlotte, “even with all of his faults. He was a good man, and a good father to you. That’s why I made the decision that I did, to protect you when he died. I realize that I should have told you this a long time ago, but I never found the right time. It’s time that you knew the truth about your father. I told you that your father died of a heart attack. That much is true, but it is only a half truth. The heart attack was brought on by a massive overdose of heart medication.”

“What are you saying?” asked Andy, “that Dad tried to kill himself? Why would he do that?”

Charlotte took an envelope out of her purse. “I found this letter shortly after your father died,” she said. “Your father had a gambling problem. Not only had he gambled away all of our savings, but he maxed out all of our credit cards and unbeknownst to me, took out a second mortgage on our house. When he realized how bad his gambling had gotten, he became desperate. He felt that the only way out was to commit suicide.” Charlotte passed the letter around for her children to read. “When the doctor at the hospital showed me the lab results, that showed all of the drugs in his system after your father died, I begged him not to include it on the death certificate as the cause of death,” said Charlotte. “I told him that the insurance company would not pay the insurance claim for suicide. He felt sorry for me, being a widow with nine children and he listed the cause of death as heart attack.”

“Then, when I tried to collect on the life insurance policy,” said Charlotte, “I was devastated to learn that your father had cashed in his policy one month before he died.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell us this before?” asked Lisa.

“Because I didn’t want you to hate your father, or think any less of him,” said Charlotte. “He was a good father. He was just sick with an addiction.”

“So, you led us to believe that you were bad at budgeting money, instead of telling us the truth?” asked Steve.

“Yes,” said Charlotte. “I figured that you would eventually forgive me.”

“So, why tell us now?” asked Ellen, “after all this time. Why not keep it a secret forever?”
“I wanted to come clean about everything before it was too late,” said Charlotte.

“What do you mean?” asked Andy

“I gathered all of you here not only to reunite the family, but also to say goodbye,” said Charlotte. “Three months ago, I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. I only have six or seven months left, before the end comes.”

Charlotte’s children all began talking at once, and several of them were crying. “Why didn’t you tell us before now?” asked Dave.

“Because of how you are reacting right now,” said Charlotte. “I don’t want you feeling sorry for me, and I’m not just going to lie down and wait to die. Your father and I always planned to take a trip around the world, one day. Well, now I will take that trip for the both of us. I’ve already made all of the arrangements. I sold the house and most of the furnishings. The money will be enough to pay for my travel expenses and occasional medical treatment. Please do not try to talk me out of it. I’ve already made up my mind. My lawyer will be contacting each of you to let you know where you can pick up the family heirlooms and items that I want you to have. Feel free to swap anything among yourselves. You will be notified by my lawyer once I have died, but there will be no funeral. This is how I want it and I hope that you will respect my wishes. Please do not try to track me down while I am traveling.” Charlotte asked her children not to tell their children until the time comes.

As the meeting came to a close, there was a lot of hugging and crying. Charlotte told her children that she would see them one more time a breakfast, and then, she left to go to her hotel room.

The next morning, Charlotte’s children gathered in the hotel dining room before breakfast to discuss how to convince their mother to change her plans. Forty minutes later, when the rest of the family arrived for breakfast, the waiters began serving their meal. When their mother failed to arrive, Steve went to the front desk to call his mother’s room. The hotel manager handed Steve a note and told him that Charlotte had left it for her family.

The letter informed everyone that Charlotte knew that her family would try to interfere with her plans and that is why she chose to leave in the middle of the night.

The family was very upset, but they knew that there was not much they could do. Over the next several weeks, Charlotte’s children received postcards from all over the world, telling them what a wonderful time Charlotte was having and how she knew that their father would have loved it as well. Charlotte’s children shared the post cards with each other all over the country by various electronic means, and something wonderful began to happen. Charlotte’s twelve children began to grow closer to each other. They were becoming a real family again. They stayed in contact with each other on Facebook and they talked on the phone often. Approximately five months after the family reunion each of Charlotte’s children received a package from Charlotte’s lawyer. In the package was a letter from the lawyer, informing them that their mother had died. There was also a letter from Charlotte telling her children goodbye and how much she loved them.

There was also a small container containing some of their mother’s ashes. Their mother’s wish was for them to plant a rosebush in each of their yards, and add the ashes to the soil, so that Charlotte would always be with them in a sense. Roses had always been Charlotte’s favorite flower.

One month later, All of Charlotte’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered to honor their mother. At the reunion, there were a lot of tears, as well as a lot of laughter. Everybody began making plans for the first annual family reunion, which would be held on their mother’s birthday.

The family continued to grow larger as the years went by, and they would gather every year without fail, to honor their mother as well as to strengthen the family bonds. Charlotte had succeeded in bringing her family together and she would have been so proud of them.

The End

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