Eye on KELOLAND: Family reunion is bittersweet


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Before the Delta variant began ramping up speed, many families reunited following a year-long separation due to the pandemic. One of those reunions had to be put on hold due to distance and life circumstances. But the joyous moments of a Sioux Falls family finally getting together in person are also bittersweet.

This month, music teacher, Lauren Wright, packed up her two sons, 8-year-old Jonas and 6-year-old Merritt, and made the trip from their home in Montana to her parents’ home in Sioux Falls.

“I see 300 kids a week. I just didn’t feel it was safe to be around my parents,” Lauren said.

Now, the moment she’s played out in her head so many times over the last year, is about to become a reality.

“Thinking about coming out here, it really sunk in-it’s been a year. And these guys, my sons, have grown head and shoulders in a year,” Lauren said.

As Lauren and her son reunited with her parents, Jim and Nancy Wright’s emotions range from shock and disbelief to relief.

Laren and Nancy Wright hug one another after being separated for a year

“I’m just so happy she’s here and the boys are here and we can hug them,” Nancy Wright said.

“Well you can’t hug them on FaceTime. And they’re getting so big. You only see this much on a video screen,” Jim Wright said.

“I couldn’t have gotten, especially the last few years, without my parents. They’ve been a huge support for me and my kids. I wouldn’t be here without them. They’re the best,” Lauren said.

“She’s a single parent now and she’s so far away without help. And as a mom, I worry,” Nancy said.

It’s understandable that Nancy would worry, especially when you know what she and Jim have already been through.

While all children are precious to their parents, Lauren is even more so to Nancy and Jim.

“I don’t know how many times people asked, are they twins? No there’s actually three of them,” Jim said on February 8, 2006.

You see, Lauren was actually one of three of the Wright’s children: triplets.

“We did the ultrasound and saw two heads and they said it was twins and I was really excited and happy,” Nancy said on February 8, 2006.

“Then when they said here’s the third one, that’s when I sat down,” Jim said in 2006.

Triplets Johanna, Dane and Lauren Wright at age 18. Johanna and Dane were killed in a car crash in 2005.

I first interviewed the Wrights in 2006, three months after two of their triplets, Dane and Johanna, had been killed when a van full of young people went off the road and rolled into a ravine by Lake Alvin.

“I think that is the hardest, the lost potential. That and the fact Lauren’s got us all to herself,” Nancy said in 2006.

Now, nearly 16 years later, Lauren has added two boys to the mix.

“I’ll tell you what, when I see her boys, I see them too, especially little Merritt now with his twinkle in his eye and his freckles all over his nose. Oh my gosh, he looks so much like Dane did at that age,” Nancy said.

Dane and Johanna are only a thought away.

“We have their pictures all over in the house, so every day you get a refresher, what they looked like,” Jim said.

“They’re very much a part of the family, even though they aren’t around. We haven’t seen them in 15, 16 years, but their memory–it’s just like a family member who lives far away. We talk about them and keep their memory alive that way,” Lauren said.

Kennecke: What do you love the most about Lauren?
Nancy: I think her resilience. I’ve not lost a sibling. Jim’s not lost a sibling. We don’t know that loss. And not just one sibling, but both of them.

Nancy says it’s just like Lauren to spring a reunion on them, complete with a TV news crew tagging along.

Kennecke: I know for sure she loves her parents.
Jim: Whew, she… likes to surprise us too.
Nancy: Whew, good thing we have strong hearts.

Strong hearts shaped by unimaginable pain and loss, that can still find joy in one another.

While Lauren and her boys visited her parents for a week, now that they’re vaccinated, Jim and Nancy plan to make a trip out to Montana before the snow flies.

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