Arizona

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My grandfather, “Popop”, passed away on March 22.  Last week I was able to travel out to Phoenix for his memorial service. While the reason for my travel was not the happiest, I was still excited to make the trek–I got to travel alone (reading! movies! sleeping!) and spend a whole week with my extended family recounting our memories of Popop and creating new memories together. This was also an important week of travel because it was the first time I had ever left my family (gasp!). Jon stayed in Ireland with the boys, making this his first time alone with both children for more than a couple of hours. While Jon was at work each day some incredibly amazing friends of ours took care of our kids and helped them have so much fun that they cried each day when they had to leave (true story!). It was, in short, a momentous week for all of us.

After a long day of travel, I arrived in Phoenix on Monday night. I had Thai food for dinner at my Uncle Brad’s house and then fell fast asleep for 12 glorious hours. On Tuesday we drove up to my grandma Sandy’s house in Cave Creek (about 45 minutes north of Phoenix) to help clean her house and set up tables for a BBQ we were having that night when all of the family arrived.

The BBQ was great, just a casual evening where we could all hang out, eat, and have fun together. Here I am with my cousins Natalie and Chrissy, my sister Erin (who had just driven over from L.A.), my nephew Noah (he’s getting SO BIG!), and my cousin Chrissy’s new (at least to me) baby Maverick:

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We all sat around tables outside (oh, how I’ve missed the sun!) and ate our nummy BBQ:

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We had family members travel from all over the country for the memorial. We had representatives from Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, and Louisiana all together to celebrate the life of our beloved Popop. I know that he would have loved seeing all of us together and that he would be proud to know what a special family he was a part of.

One of my favorite family moments came early on Wednesday morning when we were all getting ready to leave for Popop’s memorial service.  Shortly before we moved to Ireland I bought a puzzle necklace for me, my mom and my sisters. We each got a piece of the puzzle–something to remember each other by since we all live so far apart now. It’s been nearly a year since we got our puzzle necklaces and we still hadn’t been able to put all of  the pieces together yet. Finally, we were all in the same place at the same time with our necklaces! At about 6 AM my nephew Noah was running around the house shouting, “The puzzle! The puzzle! You have to put together the puzzle!” And, so, we did:

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We actually had two memorial services on Wednesday morning, one at the national cemetery for our family and then another at my grandparents’ church for family and friends. We started the morning at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek where Popop’s ashes will be buried among other veterans. Popop served in the military when he and grandma Sandy were newlyweds. In fact, my mom was even born on the army base in the territory of Alaska (it wasn’t even a state back in those days!). The service at the National Cemetery was short and sweet. Our family gathered together:

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And Grandma Sandy passed out family heirloom hankies for us to dry our eyes on:

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The service was conducted with full military honors including the folding of a flag:

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And a gun salute:

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After the military service at the National Cemetery, we moved on to Sandy and Popop’s church for a larger memorial service. There was a table set up near the entrance with some “Popop Memorabilia”–shirts from his favorite sports teams, M&M’s (a favorite treat), flowers, and photos:

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The service itself was beautiful. The pastor gave a thoughtful eulogy and then family and friends took turns sharing memories of Popop. My mom and dad both shared so I felt brave enough to get up and say a few words myself. I spoke about the love that Popop had for us, how he led our family in love, and how he left that legacy to each of us. Everyone who meets our family always says that they can tell how much we love each other, and it’s true. We love well because we have been loved well. Popop loved us and it showed, and will continue to show.

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After the memorial service we had a grand lunch buffet at the church that was put on by grandma Sandy’s “Lunch Bunch” friends. Then we all went back to Grandma Sandy’s house to spend the rest of the day together (and eat all of the food–oh my, the food! So much food!). Popop was always fond of Mountain Dew (the soda)–which always struck me as funny because I never knew an adult, let alone a grandpa, who loved Mountain Dew so much. When we got back to Sandy’s house we had a toast to Popop–with Mountain Dew, of course!

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Then it was time for family photos. After all, who knows when the next time will be that we’ll get this whole crazy crowd together! Here is the large group photo including all of Popop’s direct relatives: his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The group was so big that I barely made it into the photo (you can see half of me in the bottom right hand corner of the photo):

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After spending a whole week with my family I have concluded three things:
1. We are loud
2. We are fun
3. We are awesome

Seriously, I have the best family! It had been a long time since I’d seen most of the extended family (and this was the first time that I’d met a few of the more-distant cousins) but after this week I sure hope I get to see a whole lot more of them. Our family is full of wild west cowboys, cattle ranchers, and Physical Therapists–all kinds of crazy under one roof. I love it.

After the memorials we had a few days to spend time together and enjoy the Arizona sunshine. We went for a family hike in the desert:

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Went swimming at Uncle Brad’s pool:

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Went shopping at COSTCO!!!! (O.K., probably only a person who has been deprived of Costco for a whole year would be this excited about Costco but let me tell you…it was every bit as good as I remember it in my daydreams):

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We even had a fun night out at a bull riding show. I, the city slicker, had a great time watching the show. The real cowboys in my family, however, were not as impressed. At least, I don’t think they were impressed…I kept having to ask my cousin to interpret for me so I could understand their lingo:

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On my last day in Arizona we even had a “Feaster” egg hunt (Feaster being fake-Easter–a holiday we celebrated every year when I was growing up during our spring break in Arizona). Noah had no competition this year so he came out a champ!

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And then, just like that, my week in Arizona was over. Back to the airport, back on the plane, back to Ireland I flew. As we flew into Ireland I reflected on the incredible week I’d just had–the memories, the laughter, the tears, the love, the joy of family.

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Before I knew it I was back home again, snuggling my sweet little boys. Yes, the joy of family, indeed.

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