July 1st is Canada Day, which is akin to our July 4th. And a few Sundays ago, it was Father’s Day. Both of these celebrations are bittersweet for me. My father died in 1986 and my family on his side all live in Canada more than 2,000 miles away from me.

After dad died, I lost touch with his surviving sister - my Aunt Mary, her two daughters and their three children and spouses. About three years ago, I received an email from the eldest first cousin, Nancy asking if I was the MaryAnne Banich (maiden name) who is her cousin.

I was ecstatic!

Through several emails, I learned the youngest of my first cousins, Janice was getting married again. Her first husband had died suddenly 10 years earlier. Her kids Jill and Michael were grown and on their own. Janice invited me to her wedding.

And sharing what happens next makes a lump in my throat. I almost didn't write about it, because I thought putting it out there might diminish the intimacy of my experience. Or that it might lose something if I tried to relate it in writing.

In May of 2010, off I went to reconnect with my Canadian family. I was both excited and anxious. I have to say, it was like my dad was watching over me. If the visit were a MasterCard ad, being reconnected to this family is my “Priceless.”

There are certain moments in a lifetime that leave a mark. This trip held many such moments. One of the most moving for me was when my girl cousins and my Aunt Mary gathered together after dinner the first night and presented me with a small purple box tied with a gold ribbon. Inside was a gold Inuksuk with a diamond.

My cousins explained an Inuksuk - in-ook-shook - is a piece of Canadian history. If you watched the 2010 Winter Olympics, you might have seen one. It is an Inuit term meaning, “in the image of man,” because they look like a person. These monuments were used thousands of years ago by the Inuits for communication and survival. If you were on the Arctic tundra and saw one of these you would know someone had been there and you were on the right path. I guess you might call it the forefather to the GPS.

To form an Inuksuk, stones are placed on top of one another as separate pieces, not bound together, but each supporting the other through balance. No one stone is any more or less important to the structure than the one below it or the one above it. The stones were chosen for how well they fit together, so removing one of them destroys the integrity of the whole. I read the Inuit peoples knew its strength lies in its unity and its significance comes from its meaning as a whole.

This gift I wear around my neck almost daily has become my symbol of family. Individually we are unique and significant. Separately we compliment each other as individuals. Together we are supported by each other and in that support lies my strength. When I was with my Canadian family I was part of a greater whole. I was reminded of my need to belong to something greater, and my ability to my commitments were reinforced.

Nancy, Janice and Aunt Mary told me they were gifting me this Inuksuk, so that I would never forget my Canadian roots. In this moment, I want to recognize the Divine spark in each of them and hold them in my heart forever.

My time there simultaneously flew by and stood still. My Inuksuk is my souvenir, which in French means remember.