Sweet Family Memories

photograph of grandparents (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

These are my dad’s parents, taken in 1999 at a typical family meal in summer. For me, the picture crystallizes “family”: the shared food, cooked by my grandmother (who was a great cook), the shared wine (note the three bottles!), selected by my grandfather, the unseen but imagined presence of many family members around the table, the slanting sun, the old cherry tree… 

I wasn’t present at that gathering, I was already living in Boston and we coulnd’t afford to fly over very often. Most of my family lives in Belgium (Ghent and Antwerp, two cities that are half an hour’s drive away from one another). Two of my uncles emigrated decades ago and live in Toronto and in Taiwan, and one of my nephews lives in Barcelona, Spain.

My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. Everyone flew in to Ghent for the funeral and to support my grandfather. It was too difficult and expensive for us. That Friday of the funeral was a very strange day for me. Knowing that everyone was gathered there, except for us, and my grandmother, gave me a bizarre feeling of solidarity with my grandmother: we were both absent in person, though, I hope, present in spirit.

I wrote a while ago about the importance of family, especially of grandparents, for raising children and ourselves, and the appeal of a family more extended than our present, very nuclear family. That week after my grandmother’s passing, that message was made crystal clear to me.

In the meantime, however, we’ve realized that we cannot afford to buy a bigger house, even one in the country. The dream of an extended family will have to be put on hold for a while longer…

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