Today my family laid to rest my Aunt Anne. She succumbed to cancer after a very long battle that began shortly after laying to rest her husband, my Uncle Sonny, who also died of cancer (although a different kind). Until today I had not cried for the loss, but there is nothing like a funeral to bring up those emotions and the tears simply must follow.
Aunt Anne was so much more than just an Aunt. She and my mother were best friends, who then married brothers. They were incredibly close and even looked alike to me—almost to be expected with a friendship spanning over 40 years. The similarities between the two of them were almost eerie, and part of my tears today were out of pure love and appreciation for my own Mom, combined with a deep sense of sadness for my two cousins who have now lost both of their parents in way too short a time. I found myself with conflicting emotions of grief for my cousins, and a somewhat guilty sense of relief that I have yet to know the pain of losing a parent.
As we sat through the service, I found tears flowing then ebbing then flowing again like a tide. In large part I cried for the time I didn’t spend with her, that I cannot get back now. I always adored my Aunt, but I fear I didn’t quite tell her enough how much. Her home was on my very short list of places I’d run away to when I was a kid and fantasized running away from my “mean, mean” parents. She always told me I was welcome, in particular since she had two boys and I was a wonderful girl—I was pretty awesome (and humble too). In my adult life, I was very happy to have her attend my annual cookout each year, but didn’t see enough of her in between—something I deeply regret now.
I think this kind of reflection is common enough at funerals and after the death of a loved one in general. We celebrate all that made someone wonderful, while at the same time mourn not having enough time with them, or not making the most of the time we had. I firmly believe that now—in whatever version of an afterlife you believe in—Aunt Anne knows exactly how much she meant to me. But I cannot help but to wish I’d conveyed it a little more in THIS life.
So, as often happens in this scenario, I feel the urge to make promises to myself that I’m going to do better in that area. That I will make more of an effort to spend time with my loved ones. That I will go visiting with relatives often. That I will get over my aversion to the telephone and make calls every few days…or at least weekly…or…well……maybe not.
The problem with those kinds of promises (ones made in situations of extreme emotion) is that they get easily broken, and the guilt that comes with breaking them can be so much worse than “normal” guilt. It’s about realistic expectations. It is about living as best you can and being kind and loving to everyone you can show those feelings to.
So how about this…today I will make these promises to myself:
To tell those I love how much I love them whenever I have the opportunity.
To make fewer excuses about why I can’t see or spend time with my loved ones and instead seize opportunities when presented with them.
To hold close the precious love and laughter I get whenever I DO spend time with them.
To leave the guilt behind and remember that through my actions they all know exactly how I feel.
I know the easy part is laying this out from the comfort of my living room while reflecting over today’s events. The hard part is in the doing—except it actually isn’t. What I am promising myself is to just be the best me I can be. What I think we all owe ourselves is to focus a little less internally and a little more on the world around us. It is not about the quantity of time you spend with people, it’s about the quality. My family is huge—Dad was one of nine so there is a lot of family, by blood and a ridiculous number of “family” by heart—so conveying my feelings to all of them could be a full time job. But I can ensure that when I am able to see them that they know clearly how much I love them.
Aunt Anne, thank you for being a wonderful example to the world, and I hope you enjoy your new status as part of the all-knowing afterlife. I would like to point out to you that we are big fans of signs from “the other side” and that Grandma has been known to make her presence felt from time to time…feel free to drop in, and bring Uncle Sonny with you…he’s been too quiet.