Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Dichotomy of Loss & Connection

My great-aunt Barb passed away in late March of this year. This was completely shocking to me as I had seen her last summer at my Auntie Eleanor's 90th birthday. (I don't know why I refer to my paternal grandmother's sisters as "auntie" when I don't refer to any of  my other aunts that way, but I can't remember not referring to them as "auntie".) It was such an inclusive event; my second cousins, Carrie & Audra included all of the family who attended in the processional and recessional at the start and end of the church service. My dad, my uncle Tom and 2nd cousin Scott were pall bearers. I gave the Easter card I had already signed and addressed to Auntie Barb to Carrie & Audra. I was told of her passing on Sunday and I was going to mail out my Easter cards on the next day.
It was a "good" funeral service which I define as one not focused on sin and damnation but rather was focused on the love and goodness Auntie Barb exemplified during her life. It was a celebration of her life rather than a condemnation of those left behind.The best funeral I've ever attended was my Grandpa Porath's at Peace Church in Shawano. That ceremony was truly a celebration of his life and how that a life well lived is an example to those he loved, a sort of template of how to live a full and meaningful life even though my Grandma Porath had died in 1977 and Grandpa passed in 1995. After Grandpa Porath's funeral we all gathered at my aunt Sue & uncle Tom's house - the house my dad and his younger brother, my uncle Tom, grew up in. I remember my Grandpa Porath watching "The Lawrence Welk Show" and turning his wheelchair so his back was facing the television when one of the cast members, the tall, blond handsome guy, was singing because although Grandpa enjoyed his voice, he couldn't stand the sight of him. When I consider the family traits that inhabit my personality, Grandpa accommodating his need to enjoy this singer's voice and his inability to actually see the singer performing is one I identify with. There are plenty of  books I've read, poems I've read, and songs I love listening to whose authors and performers I absolutely cannot stand to view. Grandpa wasn't a Taurus, but I am and this strikes me as a particularly Taurus characteristic. Or maybe we're both just stubborn? Who's to say?
One of the ironic benefits of funerals is that it can bring together family who haven't seen each other in years...decades for that matter. Such was the case at Auntie Barb's funeral. I hadn't seen my second cousins Carrie & Audra since we were elementary school age. I sat across from my uncle Tom and shared with him that two summers ago when I was "borrowing" my dad's Corvette, I got it up to 132 mph on Hwy 41 just to see what that felt like. I'm certain this information will not be shared without my consent. My dad has no idea how to access my Facebook page much less my blog.
During the lunch after Auntie Barb's funeral and before her interment, Carrie & Audra told everyone present to take flowers from the displays at the funeral. I picked several white roses because I love them and they're not really "white", they're more cream colored.
I was surprised that after the interment ceremony, Dad drove to the cemetery where his parents, my Grandma and Grandpa Porath are buried. I had never been there. I was seven years old when Grandma Porath died and bringing kids to the cemetery was not a popular practice back then. When Grandpa Porath died, the funeral was in Shawano but he was buried in Wausau, next to Grandma Porath, days after the funeral and I had returned to my life in Milwaukee.
Now I know where they have been laid to rest. I can help my siblings and cousins locate them if necessary. I learned that Grandma Porath had a brother named James who died at age 11 due to running into a rope that was neck-high. He died as a result of the brain trauma from falling back onto the ground after his body hit the rope. She also had a brother, Myron, who died within a day of his birth. Prior to seeing their headstones, I had NO idea of their existence. I've been so focused on the Native Americans of my maternal side of my family that I couldn't even imagine that there were family members on my paternal side that I wasn't even aware of.
So the old adage holds true: we see  most of our family at weddings and funerals. Unfortunately I've reached the age where the funerals out-number the weddings. Although the fact that I've got plenty of family members still alive, despite the likelihood that the next time I see them may be at a funeral gives me pause. At the next funeral, there will again be the dichotomy of the loss of a loved one and connecting with those who are there to celebrate that life; relatives I likely haven't seen since the last funeral.

My Auntie Barb