It was Christmas, 2015 that the explosion happened at the dinner table. My brother and I, my parents, my aunt and uncle, and two younger cousins. We might have been having fun, wearing tissue paper crowns and racing wind-up penguins across the table. It was much later and the two younger ones were locked into their electronic devices, the rest of us remained at the table, wine glasses close to empty, listening to my uncle tell stories. And then my brother snapped.
I dont remember how old I was when I finally began to understand the kind of person my uncle was. My mom tells me she saw the look that crossed my face the moment it happened. That my aunt saw it too.
It took years for my brother and I to finally decide we’d had enough of my uncle. My brother had packed his things and nearly drove home that night. It took an hour long, heated conversation for him to finally come out and say he wouldn’t do a family gathering that included my uncle again. My brother was eventually persuaded to stay, but it was the last Christmas we would spend with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.
December 2017, right before Christmas, my last grandparent passed. Some time before that my mom and I had gone to lunch and she’d told me what my grandma’s life had been like. How hard it must have been. It was lovely to hear she’d had a smile on her face when she passed. That perhaps my granddad had finally taken her hand and that they were reunited.
And it was that passing that finally brought us all back together. To raise a glass to celebrate her life and love, together.
Not present, was my uncle.
Five days prior, the doctors had discovered cancer in his bones and lungs. They told him he had a few months at best. That day he stopped eating. My aunt believed he had given up hope. She called her eldest daughter, away at college, and told her she needed to come home as soon as possible. And that afternoon we helped my aunt get ahold of hospice.
I’ve struggled to remember the anger I felt, to remember why it was important. Maybe there is a reason it all happened like this. My sweet and endlessly loving grandmother, hanging on to life for so long. No one knows why. Perhaps it was for this. Perhaps it was to bring us all back together at this time when love and support was needed. Perhaps this was her lasting gift to us.