A few weeks ago, my grandma Cherrill passed away. It's sort of strange to wrap my head around still. She died at home, surrounded by all her people. Her funeral was absolutely beautiful. 

Like my grandma Shirley, my grandma Cherrill also suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. (I am so screwed.) In Cherrill's case, her Alzheimer's primarily affected her short term memory, while Shirley's affected . . . well, all of it. 

The experience of losing both grandmothers like this within a couple months of each other has made me pause everything, like a car at a red light. This loss sort of creeps up on me, and is leaving quite a dent in the armor. A not-bad dent--this is life, after all, but I don't mind admitting that I'm bruised a little bit, and that every now and then I stop what I'm doing and question the air around me:
WHAT GIVES??" It's been an adventure, navigating myself + my emotions. It seems like just as I catch my breath, there is something else happening, almost always right away, almost always one right after the other, boom boom boom. That's my life these days. I'm sort of everywhere.

I'm coming to the realization though that maybe I'm not being piled on at all; maybe this is normal? Maybe this is adulthood? Maybe this is parenthood and daughterhood and wifehood and just what life is made of? Piles of life and piles of garbage; beautiful, messy garbage. Maybe losing loved ones and moves being tough and houses being sold out from under us and transitions being weird and families getting older and jobs being stressful is the way it is supposed to be and not some sign that we're doing it wrong. Maybe floating through life like a zen master of patience and acceptance isn't what's best. Maybe struggling with the struggle isn't something I should feel ashamed of?

I don't know, I'll let you know when I find out.

In the meantime I'm going to write about cousins. Like Huck and his 'super cousin,' Cole.

Cole is actually my cousin. He's three. 

I'm one of 40 grandkids of Leonard + Cherrill Lovin. Huck there is one of 24 great-grandbabies. 

We all grew up right there in that desert in the very same spot, more or less, like a crazy commune of talent show participants. And because I grew up like that, fully surrounded by family--in school, at church, at home, at dinner--I learned to love + trust my uncles like fathers; my aunts I can turn to for advice like mothers. A few have stepped in at times to pull that weight when immediate family was too far to help. My cousins were my first best friends and my first best enemies. They were the best people on earth to sing with and watch Newsies with and play Miss USA with. (I always insisted on being Miss Hawaii.) I grew up with this crazy kind of confidence in who I was and what I could do, mostly I assume because of the collective power of love from family that I had behind me, and I'm starting to guess that might actually be pretty rare. 

My grandparents have this tree in their back yard. I'm not sure what kind it is, but it is the perfect climbing tree. My cousins and I scratched our names into that tree so many years ago I can't even remember doing it. I climbed that tree daily for years. First thing after we arrived in Mesa, just to see if I still could, I scrambled up that thing and guess what? I could! 

Guess what else: Teaching your kid to climb a tree is a joy I never thought to expect. And then to watch that kid climb up that tree so quickly and confidently, and to watch him spend a few minutes up there just scoping things out + having himself a little think? That right there is the ultimate heaven.

Not much has changed after all these years, even though so much has changed in my family since I was a kid. But the pieces of the puzzle are all still there. The same old churches, the same old pools, the same old houses . . . even if we don't live in them anymore. There are still Lovin dogs everywhere. Dogs! Still all mostly insane + named after Disney characters and I still can't keep track of them all. And of course there is still the ever-important sausage-y chihuahua living at my grandpa's house, this one is named Minnie. Minnie hides in the sofa once things get loud at grandpa Lovin's house, as is customary among Lovin chihuahuas.

Thankfully, things still get mad loud at Grandpa Lovin's house.

Though maybe not as frequently as they used to.

Sandy is still always at the piano, still writing songs and teaching them to her people, still accompanying that classic Lovin voice: solid + steady, just a little bit wavy. We all still sit in the living room together just to listen, and every now and then when our talking becomes too loud we are still told to "shh or get out of here!"

The Westerns are still always on, always always always on. John Wayne still looks like my grandpa to me. Campfire cowboy songs will probably always be the soundtrack to my childhood. Those old beat up cowboy hats of grandpa's are still hanging out on top of all sorts of weird things--lamps + bedposts + bedside tables--all over my grandparents' room, only now that room is just my grandpa's. That's not my favorite thing to consider.

Arizona sunsets are still absolutely hideous. ;)

Those photos are straight out of the iPhone camera. Good gravy. So ugly. And the Diving Lady (now renamed The Diving Gini (long story)), still lights up every night as she dives into her tiny neon pool. 

That old house two blocks over from my grandparents house? Still feels like I could peek in that window and see my old white daybed.  

Orange groves still freak me the eff out, because of the scorpions. Thankfully "bad people in groves who want to sell me drugs" is no longer something I worry about too much? (Where did I even get that one?)

But here is what I really want to remember about this trip to Arizona, and about this family I'm lucky enough to be part of. We'll start at the beginning. One of my uncles died a few years ago. He had three children I'd only known from photos, who for various reasons hadn't been part of the family for a very long time. They were always sort of there though, just the same, trapped for eternity as tiny little kids in the giant family portrait hung on the wall in the living room. 

That Saturday at grandma's funeral as all us grandkids were singing Grandma's Song (my aunt Sandy wrote it for us to sing at my grandma's mother's funeral 20 some odd years ago), I noticed in the back of the room four faces that I just knew. I knew I knew them, though I couldn't for the life of me figure out how. After the funeral was over as we all funneled out the door we were able to track them down. And then! There they were! It was them! Our long lost cousins, those same baby features now on adult bodies, with us for the very first time in decades. And the healing that got to happen that night as they joined us for a movie in the backyard!

All because of a little lady named Cherrill who had the power to make family the most important thing in the world, no matter the situation, no matter how long you've been away.  

When you're one of us, you're one of us. And not just because our gene pool tends to spit out cookie cutters of each other, making finding a Lovin in a crowd about as easy as spotting a needle in a needle store. :) 

I'm so grateful for my people, and for the tiny, soft spoken woman who made it all happen. She was a tether. And a huge force in a very small shell. In her honor, I hope to pick up where she left off and try a little harder to put my family first--all of them--and to remember who I am, and to remember the wonderful legacy I've been given. I've been given a legacy of love. A lot of a lot of love. 


  1. My heart goes out to you and your family. And as far as the first bit of your post, you are speaking my language sister! And ironically getting me through this tough season of life has been exploring and reading your old blog archives- ha, go figure. Here's to better days and peace of mind ahead! <3

  2. This is so beautiful, I got goosebumps when reading about your long-lost cousins being reunited with everyone. You sure are lucky to have such an amazing family!

  3. So beautiful. Articulated all the pure loveliness of life,family,love and loss as we all keep spinning through the universe. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Beautiful post Natalie. I'm glad I'm one of "your people"! :) Love you to pieces!!! <3

  5. Thank you for writing this Natalie. It was so beautiful and spot on. I sure do love you.

  6. This was a beautiful post, Natalie! Family is so important and it's sometimes hard to put it all into words but you did it well.

  7. Thank you Natalie! You are the Marco to my Polo!! I too am so so proud to be a Lovin!!!

  8. This is so moving. I was raised away from most of my family and am an only child. My childhood family memories do not involve anything like close cousins, and aunts and uncles who felt like parents. Although I love my tiny family, I've always envied ones like yours :)
    I can imagine how happy your grandma would have been to see the missing cousins reunited!

  9. This is beautiful Natalie, I must say I am a tad jealous of that sunset:) Your family are beautiful...

  10. I didn't realize until about approximately the end of the post that your maiden name most be Lovin. So the men in your family are Mr. Lovin which I find to be pretty awesome. This post is beautiful and it makes me not so crotchety about having to get on a plane after working 12+ hours to go visit my aunt and uncle and cousins for the weekend. ;) Gotta love the fam.


  11. Well damn, all these tears at work. And you are so right, those of us fortunate enough to come from big families of such unconditional love and fun need to recognize and appreciate it :) The older I get, the more I want to honor and carry on that love.

  12. Ohh, you've made me cry. I'm so sorry for your losses, your grandmothers both sound like amazing women. What an amazing thing to grow up in a community made of family!

  13. Ok maybe it's weird that i barely got a paragraph in before i came thundering down to the comments section? but that crack about alzheimers and being screwed. geez i lol'd so hard. i really love that you can take such a heavy topic and have a sense of humor about it. i have lost a lot of people in my life. a husband, a mother-in-law, my grandpas, my best friend and my papa. all before i hit 27. and hell i make jokes all the time about it. because life just sucks sometimes but laughing helps? idk but thank hnj. keep the hits coming. but i hope the universe cuts you some slack for a bit.


  14. This was beautiful Natalie! I'm proud to be a Lovin, even though my last name is spelled differently! I wish we could have spent more time, it was wonderful to see you and all the rest of the fam. Love you tons girl!

  15. Your post was just what I needed - I am struggling through the struggle right now of wife/daughter/sister/and mom and life keeps throwing curves balls that I keep waiting to stop - maybe your right, maybe the curve balls won't ever stop, maybe this is what it means to be a real adult. I've tried to be more accepting of life's unknowns and I have a long way to go but hopefully there is a lot more life to figure it out

  16. Natalie, it is a privilege to read about you and your family. You do all of them a great service through your writing.

  17. It think your epiphany of struggle is spot on. Life is a struggle, and that's how it should be. I do believe doing good brings good; but that doesn't mean you won't have bad. If this was the case, we'd all live perfectly just to avoid hardship. I believe 99% of hardship isn't punishment. Tests should be hard. I'm coming to find with each new day that we truly don't understand the sweet without the bitter. Not just that we appreciate it more, but that we can truly understand it. Thanks for your thoughts to spring forth mine :)

  18. This was somehow profound, funny, and super real all at the same time. Your writing blows me away. Also...THOSE SANDALS. WHAT ARE THEY/I need them.


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