Christmas Day 2016 we got the news that my 91 year old aunt (Aunt Lou) had passed away the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I had talked to my cousin (Jane) that morning, making plans that when we got to town we wanted to see her mom and take her to breakfast.
Christmas morning found me sending Merry Christmas messages to friends and family from coast to coast and border to border. It was then I saw it. A post from a cousin in London sharing memories and praising a life well lived, but a note that Aunt Lou will be missed.
Grateful that we had planned to go home to celebrate Christmas with my boys, we altered our plans to make the trip in one day rather than two so we could attend Aunt Lou’s funeral.
Aunt Lou had spent the last several years in a nursing home. In July, I went back home for her 91 birthday celebration. Her health had declined a great deal over the past year, but she was in great spirits and enjoyed seeing people and telling stories. Even the week before she passed away, she was still participating in the nursing home’s Bingo night.
My cousins were grateful that she hadn’t lingered on the brink of death. “It was time,” one of my cousins said in conversation.
Why is it that so many people look at people’s passing as a sad occasion?
When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2013, she was grateful that the diagnosis gave her time to say good-bye and get her affairs in order. Years before, she had completely planned and paid for her funeral (or at least thought she had completely paid because there were some altered expenses due to price changes over the years). She wanted her funeral to be a celebration, even expecting the song “Rainbow Connection” to be played during the funeral at some point.
She passed away almost two months after the diagnosis, but she took time to do many of the things she wanted to do and see people she wanted to see.
My Aunt Lou had experienced a full life that touched so many others. She was a musician and a missionary to Tanzania in the 1960s. I treasure the artifacts that they sent back for holidays or brought home and shared. I enjoyed listening to the stories they told.
At her funeral, my cousin (Judy) embraced me in a hug that made me feel connected even though we now live miles apart. However, it was her comment that mirrored my thoughts earlier that week: “We are now the elders. Everyone from that generation has passed away.”
We have been passed the elder staff of knowledge and wisdom even though, as a family, we are spread across this continent and in England. It is our job to keep the family connected and to keep the family memories and stories. It is why the members of our family send Christmas cards and birthday cards. It is why the members of our family keep in touch using social media.
When someone who has lived a full and inspirational life passes away, it is the responsibility of the living to celebrate that life. Tell the stories of the person’s life. Share how they affected your life. And yes, mourn, but mourn briefly.
At the end of our Christmas celebration with our boys, we toasted our lives and the lives of those who have passed (especially my mother and my aunt) with the last shots of the 1964 bottle of Grand Mariner, the bottle we found cleaning out my mother’s house.
Here’s to all of those who have had an impact on our lives, who have steered us toward the right path, who we miss dearly in our hearts. We remember you and we cherish your memories.