About 2 weeks ago, my great aunt passed away. She was an inspirational woman - the youngest in a family of 9 children, one of only 2 of the nine to get a college education (my grandma was the other, and I am proud of that), a chemist who worked most of her life in a field of men. She never married (one of her serious boyfriends died on D-Day), but lived a life full of career accomplishments and travel - she traveled to all 7 continents and to more countries than Katie can probably count!
Aunt Del lived the last few years of her life with Alzheimer's, which was ironic for a woman whose life was filled with intellectual stimulation. I think it is also interesting that the men who cared for her and visited her in her final years were my father and uncles - sons of her older sister who passed away 25 years ago due to breast cancer. My grandma's sons lost their mother when they were still relatively young, and she was cared for by sons she never had.
Aunt Del was moved from Chicago, where she lived for most of her life, to an Alzheimer's care facility here, closer to her nephews. Also, she was 85 when she passed away, and had no children of her own, so her funeral was small - her 5 nephews, their wives, my two cousins, and my small little Lucken family. It was wonderful to celebrate Mass, and my great aunt's life, in such an intimate way, with my nearest family members. It was inspirational to see all of her albums and to remember her more for all of what she was in life, as opposed to the last years in which she was more affected by the disease.
One thing particularly touched me during the Mass, and that was the way the priest referred to life, its "joys and sufferings". I reflected that those two things are so often joined together when discussing a full life, so much so that when I hear the word "suffering", I almost automatically think of the word "joy". That got me to thinking about my life these days, and the hard days...for some reason I think I had lost track of the idea that joys and sufferings are so inherently linked. I've had a lot of joy in my life; so it makes sense that I would also receive my share of suffering - and why shouldn't I? Isn't it through suffering that you really come to know joy for what it is?
I'm not saying that people deserve suffering, of course, or that I am pleased that I or anyone has hard days. I am merely interested in the interconnectedness of these two words, these two states of being or emotions, whatever they are. Thinking about these two together helps to prevent me from thinking "why me?". Why not me?
Sitting at my Aunt Del's funeral Mass, I was able to look at my life more objectively when reflecting on her completed life's story and the legacy she left. I saw that maybe the fabric of my life would include a few more rough swatches, a few sufferings which maybe are not usual for a 34 year old woman - the death of my mom when I was still a child, this breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and worry. I don't know what my legacy will be, and if I will have left a wonderful story as Aunt Del did, if I will live as many years as she lived. But thanks to Aunt Del, and the chance that I had to reflect on her amazing life, I now remember that every life is a complete picture when it is over, and that picture will include both life's joys and sufferings. It is only natural to have the hard parts if you are going to have the easy parts, and I accept that now!
**Here's an interesting story...Aunt Del's funeral was on Emma's last day of school, and her last day at Beverly Elementary, as she will be attending a different school next year. I was so torn as to what to do that day, because I wanted to be with Aunt Del's memory and with my family, but I also wanted to be there to pick up Emma on her very last day at a school that meant so much to both Emma and I for 3 years - to close that part of her life in the way we always do, with her mom picking her up and the same little traditions we have.
So I went to the Mass, as mentioned, but was sad about leaving at the end of it and not adding my car to Aunt Del's small funeral procession. I hoped Aunt Del understood, but I wanted to be there for my little daughter too, even if it was silly or insignificant to do that. So we left from Mass and went to pick up Emma, we parked the car like I do and I snuck up on her, picked her up and swung her around like we always did. We said a few goodbyes and then were on our way to drop her off at a friend's birthday party (a great way for her to forget that she was sad to be leaving her school and her teacher, as she certainly was) before we went to the funeral luncheon.
As we left Beverly's parking lot, I checked the rearview mirror and I was incredulous as I said to Bill, "I think Aunt Del is right behind us!" The funeral procession could have gone any one of a number of ways, and here they were going up this relatively small side street through the middle of Beverly Hills, at the exact time that we were going down that same street. I almost couldn't believe it, so I made Bill pull over to the side of the road, and sure enough - there went Uncle Bob, Uncle Jim, Uncle Mark, my Dad, and Uncle Kevin...hands out the window, waving to us! We pulled out behind Uncle Kevin and were able to follow the funeral procession for a few miles before we parted ways (I still can't believe the path that procession took, at almost every intersection they went our way when I thought for sure they would turn and go a different direction). I smile just thinking about it - the way I was able to share in this last little tradition for just a little longer, and to be there with my family. Was it luck, or was it a small kindness from someone in another place? :)