I miss my extended family.
Most of them, thankfully, are still alive. But my maternal grandparents were both gone by the mid-90s and my paternal grandparents moved from their farm to an assisted living community in 1998. We lost Grandpa suddenly in 2004 and, after years of failing health, Grandma followed in 2009. Once they left the farm, our family gatherings changed. Even though my parents and my aunts and uncles had all taken turns hosting gatherings, we were never all out at the farm again. I remember those gatherings as time of extreme awkwardness, but I also miss them. Either as a result of adolescent self-absorption or reality, I could only focus on how much fatter I was and how everyone was going to notice. I remember shuffling through my grandparents' small kitchen and smiling hesitantly at everyone, looking for a place where I could sit and talk to a favorite cousin or just have room to breathe, a space where I wasn't brushing up against everyone and feeling every nerve in my body shriek.
I visited my grandparents a few times at their new apartment, but it was so strange. Everything was always so neat and tidy, from the twin beds to the furniture arranged just so in the living room. There wasn't any room to make a mess anyway, but being there felt a lot like sitting in the lobby of a nice hotel. Don't touch that plant. It's for display only.
Once Grandma and Grandpa were gone, our family gatherings were relegated to the homes of the family tree's extended branches. I'd go to Easter and Thanksgiving at my aunt's but it didn't take long before I would move through the crowd and legitimately wonder who the fuck the people were. Turns out that unfamiliar lady was cousin so-and-so's new wife and those kids belonged to the daughter of the uncle who had married into the family. Cue more awkwardness.
Before long, holidays lost some of their luster. My brother had moved out of Indiana in the late '90s to attend culinary school and never returned, not that anyone was expecting him to. Thanksgiving became a quiet meal I shared with my parents. The only noticeable difference between that day and any other dinner was the presence of candlelight and pies. After my parents' separation last November, Thanksgiving became a holiday I shared with them separately and that was its own pile of suck.
In a sense, I'm complaining. Marriage, divorce, kids, death -- we're all affected by one or more of those things eventually. If I can be nice to myself for a second, I can say that I'm just sharing my sadness. Things changed 18 years ago -- it hardly seems possible it was that long ago -- and I don't like the way things are now. I am single and have no desire to have children. As a result, I'm left somewhat alone as my cousins go off with their children -- and grandchildren! -- and continue to have big family gatherings. I feel oddly punished, as though my inability (or, depending on the day, lack of interest) to find a partner and squirt out some kids is my fault. I know this isn't the case. Life changes, families change, people you loved desperately die, and... well, that's just it. It's the shitty part of the Life brochure that the salespeople always gloss over.
The solution is to continue celebrating holidays with the family I am blessed to still have. I also want to host and/or attend more Friendsgiving gatherings this year. Fuck being sad. I want the joy of my holidays back.