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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Trustey

May it always comfort us to know, the family tree will always grow

It’s been a little while since I’ve been on here - that #influencer life clearly isn’t for me! In the past couple of months, I’ve witnessed friends get married, have spent time with Jake’s family, and today I celebrate (acknowledge?) my mom’s anniversary to her husband, Sean.

some time with my "Jake" fam

Each of these events has been a grab bag of emotions. Literally, one minute I’m laughing around a table, and the next, I’m excusing myself to go have a quick cry in the bathroom. Let me know if you’re in the market for waterproof mascara; I’ve got you covered.

Take spending time with Jake’s family, for example. Excitement overwhelms me as I pull into the driveway, eager to see his sisters and parents but much more excited to see his nieces and nephew. For a split second, I wonder if my watch is going to remind me to “take a moment to breathe” as I gasp when I realize how much these kiddos look like Jake. Now, this isn’t me projecting and wishing they looked like Jake - the genes in this family are unreal (Jake and I also used to get comments on every photo of us together that said “siblings or dating?” so take that as you will). My heart overflows with happiness. Happiness that we are all together. Happiness that I can see the joy in everyone’s faces - that joy and grief aren’t mutually exclusive. Happiness that I have been so welcomed into a family who did not have to do so.

And then, there’s sadness. There’s longing. There’s realizing that Jake never met half the people sitting at the table. There’s extreme jealousy that we didn’t get to have those kids with the cute genes. There’s wondering how this family vacation would be different if Jake were there.

But then, I’m pulled back into the conversation, my wandering thoughts silenced. Maybe I’ll unmute them on my drive home, and maybe I’ll play Olivia Rodrigo too loudly to hear myself think. Who knows? (we all know) These moments of sadness, longing, and grief come so much less frequently than they used to. They’re not gone - I don’t know if they ever will be - but they come, I acknowledge them, and I say “ok bye now” and go back to cherishing the time I have with the people I love.

Because no matter what happens, the family tree continues to grow.

speaking of growing families - this dude joined ours in april

Years and years and years ago, my mom sent me a song called “Family Tree.” The artist sings of love and loss. He reminds us that there is comfort in knowing that our families continue to grow even in loss. There’s a whole new generation on Jake’s family tree now.

Likewise, two years ago, my mom remarried. To say I wasn’t super into this at first is an understatement. Think of Hallie and Annie in the Parent Trap upon hearing their dad was remarrying. Lucky for me, Sean was no Meredith Blake, so I didn’t have to put a lizard in his water bottle to try and get rid of him.

That’s not to say it wasn’t really hard at first. I liked my old family. I liked the Trustey 6, and I had learned to be part of a family of my mom, Claire, and me. We fended for ourselves pretty well (as in, we had really great neighbors and friends who always made sure to change the lightbulbs we couldn’t reach). But, we each grieved differently. When my mom welcomed Sean into our family, I wasn’t yet at a place to imagine letting someone new into my life. I felt a loyalty to my dad. I felt jealousy that someone else would get mom’s attention (middle child syndrome). My mom was so happy, and I was so sad. How do we remedy these situations?

mom's wedding - don't read into my black outfit too much

There was no “magic fix.” The things that definitely didn’t work were people telling me to “just be happy for them” and to accept it - because clearly, those people forgot that a stubborn Caroline can really protest. Over time, things did start to change. First, Sean always made sure the freezer was stocked with my favorite ice cream. +1. He also learned to quiet down during high-stress ND games. +2.

All joking aside, with time, going home and having Sean there with my mom began to feel normal. And my mom is so happy. It’s a weird experience, having a parallel grief journey to your mom, both losing love but at such different points in life. But, knowing that my greatest fear is that I’ll never love anyone the way I love Jake, I am happy that she doesn’t have to live with the same fear for herself.

I was talking to my counselor the other day and said it really feels like Sean is family now. I feel this protectiveness of our 4 (it’s so complicated when you go from a family of 6 to 3 to 4, I’ll tell ya). She asked me if maybe he was part of the family tree.

The family tree that always seems to grow.
celebrating cousin lauren's wedding in colorado this may!

As I write this, I have myself laughing at the image of a vast tree with one limp branch, and that one branch, struggling to hold on, is me. And somedays it does feel like that. Will I be able to love and put down roots? But other days, I remember that even the dopiest branches are held onto the tree. I feel grateful that so many people have kept me from falling off the tree (metaphorically… I’ve broken plenty of bones from physical falls out of trees, etc.)

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