My mother came from a large Italian family. She was one of five sisters and five brothers. Actually, my grandmother gave birth to 17 children. Six babies died shortly after birth. A girl, my aunt Antonietta, died from an illness at age seven. I felt as though I knew Antonietta because of the beautifully framed photo which reverently hung in what was probably her bedroom.
My mother was the second eldest of the surviving 10. I was the first of my generation to be born. As you can imagine, I have many cousins.
When my grandparents were alive, there were gatherings at their house practically every Sunday and always for every holiday.
I don't know what my grandmother's secret was, but she instilled a strong sense of family in each of her children. The brothers and sisters were very close and to this day, those who are still with us, take care of each other.
As a way to preserve the strong bond after my grandparents passed away, my aunts and uncles began an annual tradition of a get together at the beginning of summer. Each person would take a turn hosting.
This continued for many years.
Of course time brings about change. The close knit core of siblings became older and then smaller.
The children of the sisters and brothers married and had children of their own. Families moved farther apart and lives became busy.
Happy family gatherings became the weddings and christenings and significant birthday parties.
Grave side gathers have sadly become common place of late.
Naturally, the saga of this family is ever evolving. Characters are old and new.
The last reunion I attended was probably about four or five years ago.
My mom was still alive. My son was not ill. My youngest was settling in with a young wife and two young children.
When I reflect back to that time, I realize, comparatively speaking, that it was quite a happy almost idyllic time.
Since then, my mom and my son have passed away. My other son has been heartbreakingly separated from his children.
A couple of weeks ago we received our e-vite to the family reunion.
It is a difficult decision for me to make. Will I be able to attend without my mom? Will it be the same without my son? Will my two little grandsons ever know about this part of their family?
As I write this, I think about my grandmother's strength.
To this day her haunting refrain of La Familia is carried forward by her two youngest daughters as they fuss over, care, wash and feed their elder sister.
I hear it when I think about my daughter and her husband and the new baby brother that Bella and Ryan will soon have. I think about how special my other "daughter" Anne is and the delight of Domani. I am hopeful that Jimmy will be strong for his sons.
Even though we may not see each other very often, I am reminded of the way my own siblings manage to stay a part of each other's lives.
Yes, my grandmother's message was clear. Gather together. Laugh and cry together. Take care of each other.
How was this woman, who knew the heartache of so much loss, still able to hold so many in her heart?
One thing I do know is that she would understand my pain. I never felt judged by her, only loved.
That is all I ask of my family as I struggle with my painful decision to check yes, maybe or no.