At the dinner party on the last night of our annual family reunion, I surveyed the dining room for a seat.
The Kids’ Table was bustling with parents settling their young children. I remembered years back, reluctantly leaving my babies at the Kids’ Table and watching from the Parents’ Table as they ate more and laughed more without me hovering over them. My 26-year-old son now sat with his 30-something year-old single cousins at the Kids’ Table, along with adorable almost-2-year-old Tovah.
Glancing over at the Big Table, I thought of my father and long gone white-haired grandparents. And my uncles, Henry and Martin, who sat there not so long ago. It was always the smallest table but it was where the big people sat so we called it the Big Table. It was the table that got served first and was closest to where the food was parked. My favorite cousin, Brigite, was sitting at the Big Table because she was the organizer of the event and both her parents sat at that table.
I was about to take a seat next to my sister and other cousins at the Parents’ Table when Brigite beckoned to me, “Robin, sit here.” Immediately, without a word to my sister, I flew to the empty seat next to Brigite, at the Big Table.
“Thank you so much for inviting me to sit here. I’m so thrilled,” I told her as we waited for our appetizers.
“Robin,” she said, raising an eyebrow and twisting her head to address me directly. “I need to give you a little perspective here.” One of her eyes was wincing. “There’s Number 1.” She pointed to her father, my Uncle Max, who sat across from us staring into space with a smile. “There’s Number 2,” she said, indicating her mother. “Number 3, Number 4.” Our Aunts Bope and Terri. She poked her head in the direction of her older brother, “He’s Number 5.” Then she looked squarely at me with somber eyes.
“I’m 6. And you’re Number 7.”
Three sleepless nights later, after I’d calculated that I was Number 5 on my mother’s much smaller side of the family, I knew it wasn’t a numbers game. It was more like musical chairs. If I could stay fast and strong enough, I might be able to bulldoze my way to the last empty chair whenever the music stopped. I intend to live long, for myself and for my daughter who died. Maybe I will be the one to live to a hundred.
But I will not be the first. Several times during the reunion I heard it said of my Uncle Max (Number 1) that he’s gonna outlive us all.
How do you survive the sad element of loss at family reunions?