Dear Extended Family Member,….. Love, Your Celiac Relative
Easter is almost upon us, and with this occasion comes the inevitable “holiday dinner.” Whether you celebrate this particular holiday or not, no doubt you have been subject to other, similar events (Thanksgiving, for example), where extended family converges on a single location to ingest massive amounts of “traditional” food and gorge on various sweets and desserts.
It seems timely then, that I finally sit down to put pen to paper (…er, fingers to keyboard), and begin the first of a series of blog posts that I have been pondering over the years. (On that note, if you’d care to read my future posts in this series, please feel free to “follow” my blog.) I call this one:
Dear Extended Family Member,
It is wonderful to see you again – it has been so long since we last were together! Having grown up with you as a presence in my life, I look forward to these large family gatherings, as they give me an opportunity to catch up with you and find out what is going on in your life.
And even though we might not be as close as some of our other relatives are, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you. In fact, despite our differences in (fill in the blank here: politics, lifestyles, parenting styles, religions, ages, hairstyles…), I actually like you and really look forward to seeing you at these annual events.
On that note, I did want to reassure you that I really, REALLY did not get celiac disease just to ruin this holiday for you. Honestly.
This isn’t some weird payback because you didn’t send me a birthday card last year. And it isn’t even about the present you (select: gave me / didn’t give me) last Christmas. It doesn’t even have to do with not being your favorite.
Whether you’ve said it to my face or not, I have heard what some people in the family have been saying (after all, we’re family…word gets around). I’ve heard how I’ve “ruined” the holiday dinner for everyone AGAIN. And I just wanted to let you know that I am sorry. Really.
The last thing want to be is the person who ruins fun events, because I feel like I end up being that person a lot of the time. And I was kind of hoping that even though other people at work (or school) might feel that way, that maybe you wouldn’t. That, because you love me, you wouldn’t see a gluten-free dinner as a punishment for everyone, but as a chance to make me feel like a part of the family – like a normal person – again.
When you grumble about the stuffing and pasta-salads and desserts that you have to miss for one meal….you seem so resentful. But if missing this for one meal makes you frustrated, think of how missing that for the next 100,000 meals makes me feel.
Being gluten free is not about making you suffer. It is about making sure I don’t. And when it comes to your preferences, I kinda’ hope that deep down inside (when push comes to shove) you’d prefer an apple pie with a gluten free crust, over me spending the next 3 days vomiting. Or that you’d gladly forgo that famous stuffing recipe for this one meal, if it meant that I could forgo cancer.
I know you wish that I could just “let it go” and not be “so picky” for this one meal – “just” this one meal….and to be honest, so do I. You don’t know how tempted I am to just go back to being the normal person I once was – especially at the holidays, when all of my old favorite foods are on the menu, and memories of family dinners of yesteryear fill my mind. Do you think I don’t miss a nice, soft dinner roll, too?
But I can’t. I wish I could, but I can’t cheat like that. My celiac disease won’t let me. (at least, not without dire consequences down the road….) And as much as I have now started dreading these family get-togethers, I’d still like to attend as many as I can in the years to come. I can’t do that if I am not in existence anymore.
You might be my grandpa, or my aunt, my cousin, or my sister-in-law…or any one of a number of other relations to me… and for that, I love you. But I have to be frank here: when you grumble about the whole “gluten-free” thing, it hurts me. It really hurts, because as much as I try to separate myself from this disease, the simple fact is that I am tethered to it every time I have to come into contact with food.
So, take this letter as acknowledgement that I hear you. I understand what you feel you are missing out on – you have no idea how much I understand that….but I ask that you keep in mind that it is only one meal for you. Can you sacrifice some of your favorites for just this one meal so I can spend time with the family and be safe, too? (you might have noticed that I have not sneaked into your personal kitchen and discarded any gluten-containing foods…I am not trying to impose my dietary needs on your entire life.)
As much as we all loved the food, I’d like to think that we loved being together as a family even more…but when we don’t have a gluten free meal, I don’t feel like I’m wanted as a part of this family at all.
I love you. As much as I miss “normal food”, I miss feeling like a loved part of this family even more.
Your Celiac Relative (who just wants to eat a holiday meal with their family)