For the last 18 years, my extended family on my dad's side has gotten together for a reunion. And every time, I have looked forward to seeing my aunts and uncles and reconnecting with my cousins and marveling at how much the kids have grown in the three years since the last reunion. Every time, anticipating. Except this year.
This year, the feeling was much closer to dread.
The re-connecting comes in levels - there's the big picture reunion, where 70 or so of us reconnect with one another. But at another level, it is a reunion for each family unit. Brothers and sisters who live far apart have the chance to be together again. My aunts and uncles get to enjoy having most, if not all, of their family with them for a weekend.
Last year, my family unit was forever changed. Leading up to the reunion, I felt like an island, newly separated from the mainland of the larger family. My grandparents, the folks who tie this whole group together, are gone. My parents are gone. I have no siblings. My little family of three, who walk through life together every day, was still a family of three at the reunion.
But I survived. We had a great time. Our family was gracious to us and to my cousins who lost their dad earlier this year. There was a full range of responses to our loss - from "don't mention it" to a more direct, "So, how are you and how did things work out?" There were a couple nice texts and messages and hugs from folks, saying they missed Dad. The cousins I always count on were as reliable and delightful as ever. If anything, I could have spent another week with them. We did our usual family talent show and games and choir. It was a wonderful reunion.
Being together also gave me a little perspective on the pity party I had been having for the last couple months. I knew Dad was sick and I had a few weeks to wrap my mind around the fact that I was going to lose him. My uncle's death was more sudden. I've had a little over a year to process some of my grief. Their loss is still so fresh. I know I am not alone - I am not an island.
I miss my dad like crazy. I think about him every day. But this weekend was a good reminder that I don't need to let his death define me and where I fit in my family or in the world.