More words of wisdom from my mom. The quote above is something she often said to me as I was growing up -- particularly when, Gert Loplitz-deficient thing that I am, I sulked about having to go to a family reunion or wedding or family party. (Yes; I really was dumb like that.)
Well: It's looking pretty good for me right about now, because the people I come from are awesome.
They're a little hard to describe, if you don't already know them. Scranton Irish, if that means anything to you. They're absolutely unpretentious. Funny -- even downright bawdy at times. Maybe even half-crazy, I dunno! And if you don't have people like this in your family, well: Your loss.
My dear Aunt Winnie, wife to my mom's late brother Bill, passed away this week, and her funeral was today. She'd been ill for awhile, and I don't even remember the last time I saw her (though I'm sure it was either for a recent wedding or baby shower!) The older girls remember her dancing away at our wedding, a little over 11 years ago (she would've been 85 next month, so even in her mid-70s she was no slouch!) She could Macarena and Chicken Dance and Electric Slide with the best of 'em!
I brought my young ones to the funeral home for prayers and family time before the funeral. We were there before most of the crowds (the size of our extended family is the stuff of which legends are made), and I took the children right up to Aunt Winnie's casket for prayers. "Look!" I said. "She's wearing her charm bracelet!" (It's comprised of dozens of little golden head-silhouettes, each inscribed with the name and birth date of one of her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Despite its obvious heirloom value, she insisted on "taking it with her," for two reasons, I'm told: (1) she didn't want her children fighting over it, and (2) she wanted to make sure Uncle Bill could hear her coming down the hall when she joined him in heaven!) There was also a picture drawn by one of her grand-kids, several photos and hand-written notes, and a bag of Doritos (she could only taste salt and sugar near the end, so her kids gave her what she wanted -- all the Doritos and root beer she could eat! My boys thought that certainly sounded like heaven.) :) Of course, her face was serene, but that's not really the way I remember her. "Her body looks beautiful, but I wish you could have known her when she was alive," I said, my voice beginning to break. "She was always smiling, how her blue eyes twinkled! And she had the most gorgeous dimples!"
(That's when I began to question the wisdom of bothering with the mascara this morning, something I rarely wear anymore.)
Greeting each of my cousins was both a sublime treat -- oh, how I wish I saw them more often! -- and deeply sad, naturally. In between the tears, there was a lot of laughter -- which of course, led to more tears ... and more laughter. The funeral home was set up without a lot of chairs, because they wanted this to be a family gathering, not a solemn, quiet affair where people sat down quickly and shushed the children. Not that anyone would've been too tempted to quiet reflection, anyway; not in this family. It was everything a funeral should be -- a celebration of a loved one's life, profound sadness at our loss; love and laughter and tears among those left behind, and a renewed appreciation of how lucky we are to be able to call each other family.
The funeral procession was a delight -- I don't know how many cars made the police-escorted trip from the funeral parlour to her home parish at Our Lady of Victory Basilica (actually, past the Basilica and around the block, right past her house!), but I don't think 50 well-filled cars is too outlandish an estimate. "I wonder if Aunt Winnie knew how important she was?" I wryly mused aloud to my children. How many people get to stop traffic like that at busy intersection after busy intersection, not because they're famous, but because they're loved?
Really, if you don't have family like this ...
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
or, as my brother Jack said, "May the angels, and Uncle Bill, lead her to paradise!"