Wednesday, February 8, 2012

There is Always More To Learn

Today was a picture perfect winter day complete with a brilliant clear blue sky and a few inches of snow underfoot.

As I drove my rental car into town for Aunt Kay's funeral, it seemed very odd to be thinking of her death on such a beautiful day. Even odder still was the fact that my route took me past her house, and I smiled sadly as I saw laundry fluttering on her clothesline in the bright sunshine, and was reminded of a conversation that I had with Aunt Kay's son from the night before.

"Mom had put a load of laundry out on the clothesline to dry on the morning that she had her stroke," he said.

"I went outside to gather them in but I just couldn't..." He took a few seconds to brush away tears before he continued "....because I could see her footprints still there in the snow."

I just hugged my cousin as he cried. There was nothing that I could say.

Although the experience was tinged with loss and sorrow, still I was glad that I was able to be there. I loved reminiscing about all those hours spent with her and her family, but I also felt fortunate that I was there to witness those events that honored and cherished her after her days here had come to an end. I felt priviliged to join with the rest of the family in praying for her in death, but also to pray for her family, grieving yes, but still very much alive.

After the funeral Mass, and a brief graveside service, we returned to the church for a luncheon. Slowly, over ham sandwiches, steaming mugs of coffee, and generous slices of home made cakes, I could see everyone begin to smile. To begin to share stories about my godmother, to re-acquaint ourselves with extended family members not seen frequently, and to begin the journey onward without this exceptional woman that had influenced us all.

I laughed with my cousins as I remembered Kay's reaction to the news that I had been accepted into my college's nursing degree program. She scoffed at this and told me to forget "all that medicine nonsense. Come to your senses and study to become a writer!" After which I snorted and wondered how on Earth she had come to THAT conclusion. (Well, duh. She had been my high school creative writing and English teacher for four years.) Didn't she know how much I wanted to be another Florence Nightengale??

Ah, Aunt Katherine. Those A's were the hardest ones I ever achieved in high school. She told me that since I was her neice that I had a much harder task in her class than her other students. And she was right.

I never told her that I had begun to do a small amount of writing, and now I wish I had. I think she would have enjoyed proof reading every post!

Oh, Aunt Katherine.....

By the time I took my first bite of my ham sandwich, I could tell that my energy was spent for the day, so I sat sipping my coffee and just quietly observed the rest of the afternoon's activities.

This was completely out of character for me since in my pre-sjogren's days I would have been hoofing it around to every table with the intent to talk to every single person.

But the simple fact was that I couldn't, and in retrospect, I think I learned more and experienced my family's response to Kay's absence in a much more authentic manner.

So much can be conveyed by someone's posture, or expression, or mannerisms. And I had chosen my seat wisely since it was in the center of everyone. People milled all around me, stopped to greet me, and then moved on to other people and conversations. And I unabashedly eavesdropped on them all.

It was an effortless way to feel truly connected with my just observing and listening.

Hm. There's probably a lesson there for me in this experience, I think: That sometimes more truthful and meaningful information can be gathered by not saying a word.

I need to practice silent observation more before this comes naturally to me, I think.

Are you still teaching me lessons, my godmother?

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