Monday, March 7, 2011

Life and Death

I must say, it was a bit odd heading into this week knowing that it would include a funeral. A funeral for someone who wasn't even dead yet. I don't think I've ever been in quite that position before, and it was strange. I suppose it was comforting in a way, knowing that my Aunt Karen's battle against cancer was, in fact, coming to an end, and that it wouldn't be a funeral out of left field like it was when her beloved husband, my Uncle Bink, died suddenly of a heart attack 13-1/2 years ago. That's not to say that my heart doesn't ache for my three cousins and their loved ones--spouses, kids, and family on their mom's side, including my aunt's twin sister, who herself has been through a battle with cancer. It does...a lot. I can't even begin to imagine how they're feeling right now, the morning after my aunt passed away and headed up to heaven. The family has been through so much in the past 13-1/2 years. They've lost their father, all four grandparents (the most recent was just a few months ago), and my cousin's husband who died in his early 30s, not to mention my other cousin's failed marriage (not her fault)....all way too much to bear. There have been two grandchildren and two remarriages in that time as well, thank God, but still...too much.

My Aunt Karen's presence within our family has been a debated topic since my uncle died. She didn't come around too much after, which was her choice. The memories were too painful, I guess. Since our first instinct was to cling to one another for support, I guess it caught everyone off guard when her first instinct was to step away. Our big, boisterous family was too vivid a reminder of her loss, and even though our family is full of love and support (in our own strange way at times, I know), I guess it just wasn't the kind of support she needed. So, since then I could probably count the number of times on two hands where I had seen her for any extended period of time, other than seeing her across church in her designated pew. And really, since my parents switched churches a few years ago, there hasn't even been that. My cousins still came around for a good chunk of family parties and holidays, but even their time with the family was lessened to some degree, simply because they still needed to make their mother a priority. Understandable, obviously.

I think more than anything the family was disappointed that my aunt didn't lean on them more for help in the aftermath. After all, the family is generally very close--not without its issues, of course--but in the end any issues could be pushed aside for the sake of the family in the event of a tragedy like that one. I think her decision to distance herself hurt a lot of feelings, but in the end I think all of us can admit that we're in no position to judge. None of us knows how we would react in a situation like that...and thankfully, none of us have had to. I've tried to put myself in her position, but I truly have no idea how I would react. And even then, everyone is different. She did reach out to some family members in her own way in the years that followed, and I don't think there was any true animosity on either side...just a shared difficulty understanding, I guess.

Nevertheless, I don't think anyone could argue with the fact that my Aunt Karen was a gentle soul. She was quiet and reserved, with a soft voice. She had a definite soft spot for babies, a stack of prized recipes, and some of the most lovely handwriting you'll ever see. She had an almost southern sensibility about her. She was always dressed nice, always had her hair and makeup done, and just seemed to be your stereotypical doting wife and mother. At some point when I was around middle school age she became the church secretary, and stayed in that position (though massive church strife, no less) until she was too sick to work. She somehow survived the loss of her husband, far too young, and even then I knew she'd never be the type to date or try to find someone new. It was quite clear that Uncle Bink was THE love of her life and even "'til death do us part" didn't express the scope of her dedication to him. More than ever before, I desperately hope and pray that we do know and see our loved ones in heaven, because I can only imagine the joy she would have experienced last night upon entry, not just to be there, but to have the long-awaited reunion with her one and only. If there was ever a person who I hoped that for, it's her. But long story short, it's quite a testament to her gentle being when pretty much everyone who commented on my Facebook status this morning said that she was one of the nicest ladies they'd ever known. Not a bad legacy to leave.


So, now that I've gone through all of this, you're probably wondering why I'm posting this here, on a blog that is primarily about Jacob. Well, it's about parenthood as well, and I think parenthood gives you a whole different perspective on death. You can't help but cringe when you hear stories in the news about dead children or dead parents who left children behind. Earthquakes, murders, fires, and accidents will never look the same once you've had a child. Heck, just a couple weeks ago a young woman in Rochester was hit by a plow while walking in a parking lot, leaving behind a husband and three young kids--the youngest just six months old--and I couldn't get it out of my head for a long time. Horrific.

For a while I've been increasingly aware that we're in this really happy place right now in life, even if some days it doesn't seem like it. Daily stresses aside, we have one amazing little boy, we both have jobs, we have a beautiful house, and we have a ton of family still alive and well. The vast majority of our aunts and uncles are still around, we each still have one grandmother, and Jacob still has all of his grandparents. Even just for those reasons alone, we're in a good spot. I am well aware, however, that this period will not last forever. Our older relatives will start passing away at a quicker rate, and funerals will become much more common. I can't even begin to describe the dread and fear that I feel at the thought of losing our parents.

I don't know at what age I understood the concept of death, and to be honest I am completely stumped about how and when to present it to Jacob because it's a BIG concept for a little kid. Even just getting around to explaining Easter to Jacob is proving difficult, so I can't imagine how it will go down the road when we have a present-day example that directly relates to his world...particularly when there isn't an immediate happy ending like the Easter story. I lived a very charmed life when it came to death. I think my first time at a funeral home was when my good friend's father passed away when I was about 14. I suppose any family deaths that occurred prior to that were when I was too young to know, or weren't significant enough for me to go to. My first significant family death was my Uncle Bink, when I was 19. I was blessed to have three of my four grandparents for a good portion of my life. Unfortunately, my mother's father died shortly before I turned two, but my other grandfather didn't pass away until I was 20. My grandma followed six years later. I do mourn the fact that I never got to know my one grandfather, but I guess I had it easy since I never knew what I was missing.

Seeing my parents as grandparents has been an amazing experience, and it's made me so grateful for the opportunity. At this point I can only pray that they're around long enough for any more children we have, and to get to know them very well for many years to come. I believe my children's lives will be greatly enhanced by time with their grandparents (all four of them), and I pray they have plenty of time to do that. But I know that it won't last forever, and for my Aunt Karen's granddaughters (and any future grandchildren she'll never get a chance to meet), that fact is all too real. It's tragic. And if I didn't say it last October when we lost an old friend to cancer, I'll say it again: Cancer Sucks.

It's going to be an odd week. We have a fundraiser for Craig's mom on Tuesday, calling hours on Wednesday, and the funeral on Thursday. We have a busy weekend ahead as well, so suffice it to say that this week is going to include a LOT of packing and a lot of Thruway travel...on the heels of a weekend of much the same. This is the easy stuff, though. We are blessed and these trivial little things that stress me out are nothing in the grand scheme of things. This week isn't about me. It's about a wonderful woman who is gone far too soon, and the special people she left behind. I pray that she rests in peace and is enjoying a fantastic reunion in heaven. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

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