Sunday, December 27, 2015

Family Goodbyes

Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
Lourdes, Iowa
My mother came from a large family; she grew up somewhere in the middle of a group of twelve (plus two more who died in infancy). Consequently, family gatherings when I was a child were large, boisterous. After she died, I didn't see these relatives often, reconnecting just in the last ten years or so.

Last week, word came that one of her four remaining siblings had died. I hadn't seen Aunt Roselyn in at least thirty years, but remember their home as a happy one; filled with good feelings when we came to visit.

When I stopped by my brother's house to bring Christmas cookies, he asked if we could alter our travel plans and leave a day early to attend the funeral, which was last Wednesday. At first, I said no. Too busy, new job, no vacation, long time no contact, etc., etc. He was OK with that. But then I stopped. My excuses glared, tinny and fake, as just that - excuses. There was no real reason I couldn't or shouldn't go, and so we went.

Those of my aunts, uncles and cousins who could make it were there, along with her friends, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All were sad, but for ourselves left behind, not for her. Her last years were filled with the confusion of dementia - she has gone home to see her siblings and husband, to garden in Peace.

Her funeral was in a small country church in north central Iowa. The second Vatican council passed the church by - her side altars, large central edifice and communion rails remain intact. The church is near where my mother grew up, many of the aforementioned family gatherings were held in the church hall.

As all were gathered for the post-funeral luncheon in the old school gym / parish hall, I stopped at the top of the wide old oak stairs leading down into the room, transported for a moment back through the years to the gatherings I'd attended there as a child. I shook my head to clear it and joined the crew, to find my cousins had experienced the same sense of deja-vu. We shared memories and stories of the days we played in classrooms in the upstairs hall. Do you suppose the classrooms were still there? The front stair was locked, but didn't that door next to the kitchen lead to another staircase? We tried the door, and it was indeed unlocked. The old worn treads were covered in dust, otherwise untouched by time. Memory led us upwards and we found ourselves in the single hallway that had served as a small country school. Now used for some sort of classes and religious ed, the only things missing were the shelves and coat hooks that once graced the hallway. The shadowy dark seemed fitting as we peered through the glass on the doors to look at the old desks and chalkboards, beckoning with their almost-forgotten memories of afternoons spent making up games to stave off boredom while waiting for the grownups to finish eating and talking.

As my brother and I pulled away to resume our journey to Minnesota for Christmas, I found myself glad I had taken the time to come to say goodbye. I've traveled far from those uncertain days - it's good for me to revisit them now and again; to reframe the shadows; to share the stories.

Aunt Roselyn, rest in Peace. (and say 'hi' to Mom, eh?)

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