We are still a family and will always be

It was many years ago, but I remember the rain.

It was a cold, sickening drizzle that came down during that miserable 3-hour drive home.

While the rain fell outside the car, tears fell on the inside.

It seemed to take forever to get from the city to that farm in the middle of nowhere. The trip was periodically delayed as I had to get out now and again to vomit on the side of the road.

My roommate was driving and I was sharing a seat with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. We hardly spoke during that long road trip . . . because there really was nothing to say.

The rain stopped as we turned off the “Eight Mile Road” to the gravel that would lead to my family’s home. I was relieved to be nearly there . . . yet terrified to face the truth.

As we made our way down the stretch, I could see our house. It was surrounded by cars . . . as often occurs when death has come knocking.

“I can’t do this,” I sobbed, knowing that seeing the reality would make it all so.

“You can,” I heard a reassuring whisper . . . I don’t know if it was from someone in the car or a voice from beyond.

And then I saw what I needed to see. As we got closer, I saw five kids running from the house to the end of the driveway. They ranged in age from 9 to 19 and they all looked just like me.

The car stopped by the Mueller mailbox and I remember nearly falling onto the gravel as I struggled to get out.

And then I ran.

And they ran.

I remember running so hard toward those faces, their arms stretched out with mine the same.

It was no longer cold as I felt their embraces. The six of us clung to each other as if we were trying not to fall off a cliff. Our fingers dug into the arms of the others, our faces were buried in each other’s chests as we wept.

Sure, there were a lot of people in that house who cared about us and even more approaching in pickups from the north and south. But as we stood there, in our panicked huddle . . . we felt as if we were all we had.

A small, young and scared voice suddenly said what we were all thinking.

“What are we going to do now?” the voice asked from the middle of the pack.

And someone . . . maybe me, maybe one of my brothers, I can’t remember . . . answered, “Everything will be fine. We are a family and we always will be.”

I can’t say I believed, at that moment, that the statement was the truth. I really didn’t know how we were going to get through life without parents, now that Mom was suddenly gone so soon after Dad had passed on.

But I did believe in the warmth and desperate love we felt for each other. I think they believed in it, too.

As we shared phone calls and text messages last week, remembering the anniversary of that fateful day when a bunch of kids took their lives into their own hands . . . I marveled at how being a family was and still is instrumental in our survival.

Sure, the past years haven’t always been fun. We faced a lot of things together over the past 2 ½ decades.

There were many times I didn’t think we’d get through one day, let alone decades.

We did, though, and we are all still standing.

I’m proud to say my brothers, Terry and Steve, are still working on that farm. They are married to strong women and have four kids between them. Those children are living so much the way we did . . . working with the cattle, helping in the fields.

My sister, Maria, grew up to be a fabulous registered nurse who helps bring babies into the world. For years now, she’s worked in the middle of the night while still managing to raise three beautiful children and create a home with her hard-working husband.

My sister, Kelly, has built a life with a man she loves, has worked for years in county government and is currently a county assessor. She’s so smart, driven and dedicated.

My sister, Crystal, has worked in social services for years . . . first helping to save abused and neglected children, now working in the complicated field of probation. She and her husband have two miraculous children . . . one of which really wasn’t supposed to live through infancy but is here, strong and thriving. She’s tough and determined.

And then, there’s me. Sure, I worried myself near to death through most of my life, but I now find myself at peace with the past and astounded by the present.

It was dark, the other night, as I sat on the steps outside my house while the siblings and I shared memories. We marveled at how much time has passed, shared our surprise we lived through it and repeated our ongoing devotion to one another.

We may have been on cell phones, in many different places, but for a moment it felt as if we were having that group hug again.

I closed my eyes and remembered the wind blowing through our hair, standing on that gravel road, holding on to each other, wiping away each other’s tears.

I heard the voice say, “We are family and we always will be.”

Yes. Forever.


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