Wednesday was the best day I’ve had in months. I went to a funeral.
When you are celebrating the life of a good man who lived a long life there is room for tremendous joy.
At the church there was a line stretching down the length of the nave, through the door, and down the steps of the main entrance. My Great Aunt sat in front of the first pew as people waited to pay their respects, her sons and daughters-in-law lined up beside her. That line of people didn’t grow shorter as it neared noon when the service was to begin. Over the course of almost two hours hundreds of people waited to speak to the family. The line of people represented how loved Uncle Jim and his family are in their community. Finally the funeral director asked people to take seats, assuring them they could greet the family following the program.
Explaining the tangled web of extended family who traveled from near and far would take all day. Uncle Jim was an only child who had lost his father before he turned 30 and his mother in his early 40s, but he married into one hell of a clan. His wife was one nine, eight who lived into adulthood, seven who had kids, who then had kids, who have started having kids. Four generations of folks, many who hadn’t seen each other in decades laughing and crying and itching for a drink.
Uncle Jim missed one hell of a party. The mass, the eulogies by his two sons who were lawyers just like him-the first so hilarious we all felt a bit sorry for Matt because there was no way he could follow the performance his brother gave. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Jimmy shared the fun, but Matt shared the soul, the quieter part of his dad, the family man that so many people relied upon. Paul sang with his daughter and again with his band. We moved to a church down the road for a lunch and the music continued, two granddaughters sang, the grandnephew who is in the Navel Academy Band played bagpipes. Phil wrote a poem for his father, Bill read a letter from his son who was unable to attend because he was in the middle of a mission on a navel ship. But some of Uncle Jim’s ashes will be sent to that ship for a Navy Funeral. And later the extended family made our way to our Aunt and Uncle’s home where we talked and ate and drank and laughed and remembered and cried a little for hours.
All of my first cousins were there, save one who had a last minute emergency at home, and she was missed. We caught up with each other and talked about how we don’t see one another enough and listened to stories about our kids. And I felt so lucky. Listen, my huge and messy family isn’t perfect. Uncle Jim wasn’t perfect. His kid’s aren’t perfect. I think I’ve laid out a rock solid case in this blog that I’m not perfect. I’m not trying to whitewash this crazy and sprawling group of people. But I do feel lucky. I love being part of this family.
Uncle Jim wasn’t perfect, but he was an incredible man who touched many lives. The love for him on Wednesday was so real. He lived to help other people. He welcomed anyone into his home. He was honorable and kind and he loved fiercely. The legacy he left behind-hundreds of people waiting to tell his wife what he meant to them, five sons who payed tribute to him with grace and love, family that traveled from all over the country to be there to say goodbye. You could see what a rich life he had and how many people he touched.
My nuclear family were together, my parents and sister and I. Before we drove down I pointed out to my parents this might be the last time the four of us are together, just us. My sister and I have families now. It makes sense that our group of four has grown, and it has grown for the better. Hell, my sister and I are lucky that our husbands didn’t bat a lash and said go, we’ll take care of the kids. Still, it was a lovely and bittersweet family time for us. We spent the day together talking about the graceful job Uncle Jim’s family did in setting up the events. We talked about how Uncle Jim had gotten this life thing right. All of us are going to die. What are we going to leave behind? I don’t think many people take advantage of life in the same way that Uncle Jim did. He left behind a real impact on so many people. I think all of us in my family sort of vowed to try and be more like him.
Family is so important. I’m damned grateful for mine. While sitting around the kitchen table Uncle Jim’s son Paul told my father that he quotes something dad said years ago all the time. Back when my sister and I were teens we were visiting and playing with Paul’s kids who were toddlers. My father looked at us playing and then he looked at Paul. “You think it’s really great now, this kid thing. But I have to tell you it gets more fun every year.” Paul said he tells that story to anyone who bemoans the fact that their babies are growing up.
I am lucky to be part of the family I grew up in. I’m lucky to be a part of the family I’ve created with T and the boys. But even if you didn’t grow up with a supportive family it is never too late to create one. I’m lucky to be a part of my families. But it is what we do with that luck that matters.
Uncle Jim’s life and death taught me that family is what is important. Community is what is important. Who we love, who we help, how we can make each other’s lives better. It seems so simple, but it takes a lifetime of work. Uncle Jim has inspired me to get working.
My Dad used to play this game with my sister and me when we were tiny. He calls it operation-he pretends to cut open the boys’ bellies and he takes out the liver and takes out the onion, and then he discovers they are full of baloney…