Family funerals mark the passage of time. People gather to pay their respects who may not otherwise be showing up in the same place together, from near and far, some literally seem to come out of the woodwork. We can see threads of connection not always evident and ghosts of what might have been. Receptions following funerals are places rich with stories, not just about the person who has passed on but about families and friends and the weave of lives over lifetimes.
While earlier this week, immediately after my uncle’s funeral, I wrote a reflection about one of his sons whose path in life has been forever changed because of an aneurism he had decades ago when he was in his mid-twenties – there are also other reflections that stood out that mark the passage of time.
The family funeral before this one was for my other uncle – both uncles are my mother’s brothers. My mother was at the last funeral. She was missed this time around and she was the topic of some conversation, partly because of the post I wrote about her for her birthday which has circulated to many people in this small town and partly because so many people know and love and miss her.
The last funeral was before I knew the story of my adoption – although many who attended the funeral would have known. It wasn’t like people were deliberately avoiding the topic, it just wasn’t on anyone’s radar and in some ways just not important. But now that I know the story, I can talk about it and, in so doing, it invites other stories. Stories of being adopted. Stories of giving children up for adoption. Stories of connecting family threads in more coherent ways, filling in gaps with beautiful and rich stories of love.
One of my mother’s cousins, who I only seem to see at funerals, who knew the story of my family when I came into it shared just how much joy I brought to my parents as I came into their lives. She shared the story of her adoption and how that came to be – one she always knew.
And, she shared the story of what happened the day my grandfather died back in 1973. She as at my grandparents’ home with her three year old daughter. My grandfather, recently retired, was filling in for someone’s vacation, out on the sea, captaining a ship. The sea was in his blood. When he was at home, he had a favourite chair, downstairs in the rec room.
On this day, this little three year old started to go down the stairs and suddenly began to cry. She said to her mom and my grandmother, “There’s a ghost down there.” She proceeded down the stairs, went over to my grandfather’s chair and put her head down on the seat. It was perhaps right at the moment that he was transitioning. Her mother reflected that at three years of age, this little girl would have had no known reference points for ghosts or death. The story gives me goosebumps even as I write it.
Then there is my cousin and his family – my uncle’s oldest son who is a couple of years older than me and who I don’t know as an adult. I just remember him, his two brothers, me and my brother as children who for a time when we were young celebrated holidays together with family dinners at each others houses. We sat at the children’s’ table. Tumultuous family stories intervened and after awhile, we didn’t celebrate those occasions together very much. There was much I didn’t understand then and now, so far into the future, I still don’t really understand the things that led to hurt feelings and isolation in our family constellation that never seemed to be repaired.
What I am aware of now, is that my cousin, and me too, has lived a very full life. He has a beautiful wife and two amazing grown children. I am struck by the realness of this person I only remember as a child in the distant past. Of his warmth and caring. Of a connection I didn’t realize was there. Now I find myself curious about him, his family and his life’s path. I am curious about who he is and I feel some sadness in not knowing him and some hope about knowing him in the future. He lives in Alberta and I plan to visit my sister in Alberta this summer. I have pledged to myself to connect with my cousin when I am out there. For some reason, connecting these threads in our family constellation seems important and has my attention in a new way.
My mother is the only member of her immediate family left. My father is also the only member of his immediate family left. It makes me very aware of the shifting shape of life and our roles in life and in our families and the stories, told and untold that have shaped our lives, our communications and our connections over the course of our lifetimes.