“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I told my dad. Tears stained his cheeks, his eyes swollen with grief. “No,” he replied, “You have work. And it’s far. It’s not necessary.” I said my goodbyes, kissing aunts and uncles whom I hadn’t seen in years, and departed the funeral home, heading down Route 80 and trying to figure out which portion of my aunt’s funeral I would stay for tomorrow without missing too much at work. This wasn’t something I had planned for; there were ungraded papers, 2 meetings I would miss, but isn’t that the point of death – to force us into trading our mundane labor for the comfort of family, and perhaps answers about our own lives and how we live them.
As I drove home that evening, the sobs of my aging, Italian uncle rang in my ear, crying to his brother, my father, “Ora siamo solo due di noi. Siamo tutti quelli che rimangono… It’s just the two of us. We are all that’s left.” And the jolly faces of my cousins all stuffed into the funeral home buoyed my thoughts. These wonderful people I had grown up with and gotten into trouble with whom I rarely see anymore. This is why I would miss “work” – to tell stories, and reminisce, and remember and honor the legacy that our Italian heritage afforded us. To attest to how times have changed and the kids today just didn’t know how lucky they were. To soften our woes over a glass of wine. Wasn’t this the work of being a family?
The church service, the internment, and the luncheon passed all too quickly. I was one of the last to leave, not yet ready to let go of the warm fellowship that tragedy imbued. While certainly my family will mourn the loss of my aunt, her absence was tempered that day by the presence we felt when we came together to celebrate her life.
In the face of death, we experience loss, and I don’t mean to minimize that. The sense of grief and solitude can be unbearable, as was evidenced in my uncle and father. The saddening knowledge that they were only 2 left who emigrated here some 60 or 70 years ago. They felt alone and the gravity of that could be felt by everyone in that room.
When we lose someone, I like to think our grief is because the love we have for them continues, but there is nothing to pour it into anymore. The vessel is gone, yet the love remains, and it’s painful. But death also strips away the inessential and makes us realize what’s important, that underneath the noise of the world we are all connected, and that we all really need each other. It brings a sort of clarity, for some a sense of unity, and then finally, in its wake, a strength. So I don’t think of death as all that bad. It delivers purpose to our drudgery and clarity to the way we live our lives.
When we found my aunt was ill, it made me think. If I had one last day, what would I do? If you knew your time was limited, what would you do? Because it is, so what are you waiting for?
Drink the wine. Eat the cake. Declare your love and love boldly, for in the end, all that will matter is the love we shared in a life well lived.