(no clue who took this pic, so sorry for stealing it!)
Two weeks ago we drove to Atlanta to attend the memorial service for my Aunt Jeanette who battled cancer for 18 years. 18 years.
Two weeks before that I spoke with many of my cousins and siblings. The conversations went something like this:
"So, things don't look very good with Aunt Net, do they?"
"I think this really is the end."
"Do you think you will make it to Atlanta?"
"Probably not. I have school/work/family obligations and it is a 12 hour drive/$450 flight."
On Feb 11th we got the news that she had passed. On Feb 26th, 27 out of 33 family members gathered together to celebrate her life. (And the missing members had some darn good reasoning for missing, including pending surgery and overseas deployment). And what a celebration it was.
There really is something good and healing about crying together and laughing together with people who know you well. I grew up having very close relationships with my extended family, but distance has certainly made our times together limited. And we are all very different now. (Let's not begin to talk about politics or how we practice our faith. Things could get messy).
But as we shared memories together about our Aunt and who she was in our life and in this world, a closeness and intimacy still existed between us all. The seven-layer Mexican dip is always a staple, as is story/sharing time. It's cheesy and sometimes forced these days, but also familiar and comfortable.
Attending the memorial together and spending the weekend with my family unleashed a sense of grief that I wasn't even aware that I had. I told N on Saturday, after spending hours crying at the service (um, yes the service was hours long. That's just how my family roles), that I didn't even feel like it would be possible to return to work the next week. I just felt too sad and overwhelmed. I did return and that heaviness did begin to leave the following week, but it was a reminder to me that when you take time to grieve, it can be all consuming. And so I think that I hadn't really allowed myself the chance to grieve in the earlier weeks simply because it was too hard and because it was easier not to feel anything and not to remember. It took hearing stories, being with people who knew her and looking at pictures to remember all of the things that I loved about my Aunt. And to be reminded of all the pieces that made her who she was OTHER than just a Cancer patient/survivor/victim.