This Is What Celebrating the Holidays Is Like After You Lose Your Extended Family

Marisa Hillman
Marisa Hillman

There's a scene in Home Alone where Kevin is heading home to do battle with the Wet Bandits. On the way, he stops for a moment in front of a packed house whose owners are in the midst of welcoming even more relatives for a festive gathering. He gazes longingly at the house as John Williams' "Somewhere In My Memory" plays in the background. It's obvious that he's missing his own family while likely remembering Christmases past when his own house was as happy and lively as the one he's standing in front of. It's a sad scene in an otherwise humorous Christmas classic and one that I'm all too familiar with.

We started new traditions of our own, but I could never shake the sadness that came along with knowing that what we once had was gone for good.

Once upon a time, my Christmases were spent with a houseful of people. Each year, my parents would pack us up and make the two-hour trek to New York for Christmas at my grandmother's house. As a kid, it was round two of opening presents and getting to see and play with my baby cousins. Now, as an adult, I look back and know that all of my happy memories are because the holiday was spent in a house filled with family. It was getting to spend an entire day (or two if I was really lucky and got to sleep over) with my beloved grandmother. It was seeing my aunts, playing with my cousins, and having two of my mom's jovial brothers play pranks on me and the other kids. Of course there were the occasional spats between siblings and the rantings of the crazy and unpredictable uncle, but for the most part, they were wonderful.

When my grandmother died 10 years ago, our once close-knit family disintegrated. Some of my family moved down south, the black sheep were excommunicated, and others just kind of disappeared with no real explanation. We stopped traveling to New York and spent Christmas Day in our own quiet home. Spending the holidays with my parents and brother was fine because they were my family, and we started new traditions of our own, but I could never shake the sadness that came along with knowing that what we once had was gone for good.

Three years ago, while my husband and I were living down in Florida, I hosted Christmas for my parents and the small group of family members who had also relocated. It was the first time in I don't know how many years that all of us were together again, and my cousins and I quickly dubbed it as one of the best holidays we had all had in years. It's one that we all intended on repeating, even after my family moved back up north. But after one of our uncles died by suicide last year, just a few days before Christmas, we knew that it would never happen again. And now, the photo that had become an instant family favorite is the very definition of bittersweet.

Holidays spent in a houseful of family are undoubtedly hectic. But, for the most part, it's a beautiful type of chaos that is damn near impossible to re-create or replace and one you may not appreciate until it's gone. Making memories with your family is one of the best pleasures that this life has to offer and one of the best gifts you can give your children. Memories of my busy childhood Christmases, craziness and all, are now the main reason why, when someone asks me if my husband and I are finished having children, I smile and think, well, maybe just one more.