Watching a family grow

Last weekend I attended a Celebration of Life for my aunt and uncle, who both died recently. In addition to feeling sad about losing these pillars of my family who have always been there, I was struck by the sheer number of people their union has created. My cousin put together photo collages of the five children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Many of them were there in person, astoundingly grown up. The photos included group shots of everyone together. It was quite a crowd.

I think the moment that sticks in my mind is when my cousin Denee, who is a year and half younger than I am, grabbed up her grandson, swung him around, bobbing for kisses on his pudgy cheeks, and shouted, “Grandma doesn’t love you much, does she?” She laughed. Denee’s a grandmother twice over. Her daughter’s a beautiful 30-something school counselor. My cousin has extended the family tree and taken her place as a future matriarch. Her four brothers have done their part, too. There were far more photos than we could fit on the walls.

I came early with my dad to help set up. More and more, when it comes to family events, it’s just the two of us, the widower and the childless cousin whose husband has Alzheimer’s. Yes, I have stepchildren. I invited them to join us, but they didn’t come or call. When it comes to hardcore family, they’re not part of it. Eventually my brother and his kids came and I clung to them like they were water and I was dying of thirst. After they went home, I spent a few more hours with Dad, then flew back to Portland on the late plane, alone in a crowd of strangers.

Why am I bumming you out with this? Take it as a warning. Oh ye who are considering never having children, think about the long-term consequences and how you, too, could be the lone cousin when everyone else has created a tribe of their own. Perhaps you’ll be fine with it, but I predict you’ll wish you could cover the walls with pictures of your own tribe.