Loss and a Story of Love
My aunt and uncle also provided the kind of safe haven a child needed as they came to challenge their parents. They were less judgmental, and I remained close to them both. They were my anchor a dozen years ago, while I was managing the care for my mother, facing the end of her own battle with emphysema. They helped me through the funeral arrangements, and the process of becoming the guardian for my father, lost in the dementia of Alzheimers already. My aunt had been the one to care for my grandmother, and they provided the same support for my cousin as my mother’s older sister and her husband became infirm and required her care.
Throughout it all, my uncle maintained a very active volunteer life. He had retired at a young age (at least it sure looks like it to me now), having survived a brain anerysm at about age 50, and once he returned to good health, became a docent at the Sacramento Zoo, and very active in his parish and the Knights of Columbus. He made giving back to the community a full-time job, and was always gentle and kind to those around him.
This photo was taken in 2006, on my aunt and uncles 50th anniversary. My cousin Gaytrell is in the middle. My uncle's best friend Milt spoke at the funeral, telling a moving story of over 50 years of love between the two, and how amazed he was to watch as my uncle was able to comfort my aunt when she was in great pain following surgery for a broken hip a few years back, simply by saying "Jane, I am here with you".
My DH, DD and DS joined me in attending his funeral Wednesday afternoon, which was the most elaborate Catholic funeral for a layperson I had ever attended. There were four visiting priests, something pretty unusual for a "citizen", as well as several lay ministers and four alter-persons (yes, one was a girl - this has become common in the past decade or more). It was a tribute to his service to others that they desired to be there to honor and commend him. Listening through the service was both familiar and difficult. I can still remember every word of much of the ancient ritual and yet there are beliefs that are now so far removed from me. I can treasure the love all of these strangers had for my uncle, just as there are people in my daily life who love and treasure my presence, and still feel unique and alone in my loss.
I have felt frail and vulnerable, yet thankful that he lived such a full life. My cousin and I shared our fears about having no elders left in our shared grandmother’s lineage; it is just us now, and a three other sibs/cousins, although they were not in attendance. I know that we both are strong and competent women (this is the same cousin that raises 80-100 cattle a year on our family’s ancestral ranch while running her own interior design business), and yet we have not needed to rise into the position of wise women, elders, until this moment. It is enormous. We have agreed to make a greater effort to see each other regularly, in part to help each other make this step, and in part to share our grief. We have each lost one of our best mentors, the person who taught us compassion by example, and who never had a harsh word for us while we were growing up. We were lucky and now have to draw upon those reserves and share that knowledge back somehow. Will we be up for the task?
From this experience, I attended a day-long training in values-centered leadership. I am challenging each of you this weekend to think about what your core values are... they are what keeps you coming back to read my work, instead of someone else's blog, for they are where our commonality really lies. Many of my blogworld friends value creativity, but they also have a deep love of friends and family, and a sense of responsibility to the world. What else ties us together? Please go and hug your family for me.