I think this is where we were for Kaleb, I said to Vinnie as we walked into the parlor. Was it the same for Pepere, too?
We’ve done this walk before, as a family, too many times in our recent years. Things are blurring together in my heart.
We’ve done it in the fall.
We’ve done it in the summer.
We’ve now done it in bitter cold and beneath the gray, gently flurrying skies of a New England morning.
It’s beginning to become weary work. And, I should know by now to have tissues in my grip before sitting down.
We’ve buried and cremated and let go far too many bodies of those who have who have been an integral part of our family.
We’ve laid to rest loved ones who were a part of us by blood, and those who were committed to us through marriage – but all have been woven into the history of our family-by the memories of laughter, moments of sorrow, the difficult and human moments, the beautiful, quiet, honest moments, the simple, unassuming moments, the chopping of vegetables at a kitchen counter, the chuckling and sipping of a glass of wine, the sliding down beside you on the couch and slapping your knee to ask “how ARE you?”(and staying to listen with great intent)… and all of the other intricate tangles of family that cannot be undone, even by the distance of death.
This morning, it was my aunt. It was a celebration of a life that lit up a room with laughter, a woman I only knew through short visits, but who made lifelong, vibrant and beautiful impressions on me.
This morning, it was her children standing to tell their memories of their mom, and ending in a tearful embrace. It was the gathering of my mother and her siblings around my uncle, holding him. It was the slow walk of my grandmother to her son’s side, to tell him she’s so sorry and hug him through the tears. It was the sniffling of so many tearful loved ones, and it was the swelling of my heart, with both absolute sorrow and absolute joy.
My aunt may have passed on. She may no longer be in the body that she had lived in for sixty-five years…but her spirit, the love bursting from her smile, it’s out there.
It was in the room today.
I felt it. I felt her.
People can live their whole lives and never be as surrounded by so much love as my extended family has to give, through the hands willing to help, by the encouragement offered in notes and social media comments, in emails, in giant hugs and smiles and offers to babysit. In raucous games or summer afternoons by the lake or the pool. In the conversations and nods and awkward chuckles or conversations that happen when we all just don’t even know what to say anymore, here again, dressed in black and laying another of our own, to rest.
We are fortunate to live in a family bound by a love and acceptance that others may only know on the other side of death. Where they’ll, hopefully, be lucky enough to meet those of my tribe who have passed on- those bright shining lights, those warmest of smiles, sweetest of embraces, and most contagious of laughter – those we’ve loved and cherished for years here below.
Death doesn’t win.
And, as my sweet cousin expressed this morning, goodbye is just a prolonged hello.