Yesterday, I sat in a little Pennsylvania church that smelled like my long departed uncle’s house where I had played with my boy cousins. Except, seated in front of me, those same boys were now men and strangers. I listened as my Aunt Mary’s friends spoke kind, respectful words in her memory. And as I sat there, my eyes moving from the advent candles by the pulpit to the exposed wooden beams draped in Christmas greenery, I thought, “Why aren’t there more people? What amount of attendees is appropriate at one’s exit party, anyway?”
But does it really matter? Do the departed even care?
I learned things about my aunt that I didn’t know, couldn’t know.
I wasn’t born when she built lifelong relationships with co-workers and friends in her first jobs. Nor when she moved to California. I wasn’t there to watch her finish those early paintings. Did she sign them wondering if she was any good? I wasn’t there when she comforted friends over the loss of their children. Or when she became a mentor, a second mother after a loss or the ravages of cancer. I wasn’t there when the first glimmers of awe formed in the eyes of her many admirers.
I was there in a latent memory that bubbled up. Aunt Mary took a very young me under her wing and let me sit with her in the front seat of the El Camino, because I was unbearably shy, too pained to sit in the back with my rowdy gaggle of cousins and siblings.
Those were the early days, before The Big Move to Okinawa that changed me forever, that separated me from my cousins, those boys who could have been brothers instead of strangers. Like Kiddo’s cousins are her brothers and sisters.
Blessings in curses. They are always there.
Later we sat in my cousin’s house, while his daughter, almost Kiddo’s age, napped upstairs. I could have been sitting with my own brother. Look at us. We, who are having babies in our forties, even fifties. Babies who will be siblings. And when Cousin asked, “When will you be back?” I answered, Soon, and I meant it. This is familiar. Here with his older children, the boy so like my nephew.
And I looked to the exhausted face of my other cousin, the one who lost his mother – she whose departure now brought us together. The day had taken its toll. And I knew I was coming out of the mists of the past to help carry his heaviest of burdens. When we said our goodbyes and I love you’s, gave our parting hugs, I felt Aunt Mary there. Her final work complete, at least for me. And in the spot where she collapsed on that holiday night, I whispered thank you into the night and drizzle.