You’re never too old for the kids’ table
Growing up, we spent many holidays at my aunt and uncle’s house in Dayton where my sister and I would disappear to my cousins’ rooms to play, emerging only for food and additional quality cousin time at the kids’ table. In this adult-free zone, we shared silly stories, stupid jokes and impersonations from cartoon and TV shows, from SpongeBob to Seinfeld — anything that resulted in bouts of uncontrollable laughter.
Well into our 20s and 30s, we still gathered at the kids’ table whenever we got together, catching up but also being temporarily transported to childhood moments where the only goal was perfect timing on your next joke or rehashing the Christmas when Grandma made ham loaf and my sister remarked that she would prefer to eat “something edible.”
Over the years, our cousins became as close as siblings. My sister, Mallory, and our cousin Allison, sharing a congenital heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot, faced numerous open-heart surgeries, hospital visits and cardiology appointments.
As we got older, we didn’t spend every holiday together anymore, but when we did, the kids’ table was there, contracting and expanding in size to accommodate whoever showed up. Conversations evolved to college choices and career paths.
As we got older, we didn’t spend every holiday together anymore, but when we did, the kids’ table was there, contracting and expanding in size to accommodate whoever showed up.
I was thrilled when my cousin Allison decided to go to UD, joining me and other Flyers in the family. We each lived in Founders Hall freshman year, although by the timeAllison arrived it had been upgraded to include air conditioning. Allison’s years at UD provided an excuse to return to campus and grab a bite at Milano’s or walk past my old house on Kiefaber. On one visit our dads met us for drinks at the Buffalo Wild Wings on Brown Street. In between visits, we texted about UD basketball games.
The cancellation of March Madness 2020 was one of the last things Allison and I talked about.
In the early months of the pandemic, Allison died unexpectedly. She was 25. Grieving in a time of quarantine and social distancing is exceptionally inadequate and lacking. Grandparents watched a live video stream of Allison’s service while family and close friends tried to gather as safely as possible, wearing masks, painfully prohibited from hugging. Instead of sharing memories over food and drink, we stood in a physically distanced circle in the funeral parlor parking lot.
Our family was not alone in experiencing a loss during the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of families as they gather in post-pandemic times will have an empty chair at the table. My aunt and uncle’s backyard has been transformed into a memorial garden; birdhouses and wind chimes hang from trees and the covered patio.
Our family was not alone in experiencing a loss during the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of families as they gather in post-pandemic times will have an empty chair at the table.
We will continue to gather. Without Allison, the kids’ table will never be quite the same. But for a short time we can retreat to our childhoods and laugh together again.
Things are always more fun at the kids’ table.
Meghan McDevitt, who majored in English and French at UD, is the managing editor of The Journal of Pediatrics and lives in Cincinnati. Learn more about adults with congenital heart defects and CHD survivors from the Adult Congenital Heart Association at achaheart.org.