Journey Home

Final goodbyes are emotionally challenging and tinged with bittersweet reactions. We can experience our own loss and sadness while also feeling relief and tender joy for our loved one who's passed on.

As our extended families drove from different states to gather at Grandma's memorial service last weekend, we each carried a sense of anticipation to see one another yet also felt a solemn emptiness, missing the focal person who centered our family gatherings.

We faced the uncertainty of how we'd navigate the nuances of social distancing during such an intimate ceremony of farewell. Bereavement is not a natural companion to social distancing!

We arrived, sporting pink gingham facemasks in honor of Grandma, and shuffled through the initial awkward steps of greeting family members in a meaningful way, yet also hyperaware of personal boundaries that have new social norms (and consequences.) Talking to each other through facemasks was uncomfortable - - - yet we were so grateful that we could meet together during this pandemic.

This was the first service for both the funeral home and church since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had eased. Even in her final goodbye gathering, Grandma was still pioneering her way into new territory.

We ventured in and had a few quiet moments of reflection. One of Grandma's beloved quilts was draped softly over her casket. In her folded hands dangled her well-used rosary. Stillness and peace permeated the visitation room.

Hushed voices and sniffles gradually gave way to family stories and an occasional ripple of laughter, easing the tension and unifying us in our shared bereavement.

An album of Grandma's quilts got passed around and we were all amazed at how many she had created over the years. Even now her handiwork softened the edginess we felt in these strange circumstances.

Ever the social butterfly, Grandma would have loved all the family getting together again. Cousins got reacquainted. Generations mingled and tried to trace the lines of the family tree...all leading back to Grandma and her beloved hubby.

- - - What an honor to celebrate a life well-lived. - - -

As usual, Grandma got the last word in. She had written a final letter to us, which my cousin read aloud at her mass. In this portion, she shared her encouraging wisdom:

"You all go on with your lives. It takes a lot of patience and love.

Keep God in your hearts and He will be with you always.

I will say goodbye until we meet again.

God bless and love to all."

It was an honor to be a pall bearer, carrying Grandma to her final resting spot. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the flutter of American flags and colorful flower arrangements greeted us at the cemetery, lifting our spirits in this tender moment.

We were blessed with a lovely spring day, full of sunshine and hope.

Grandma unified us one last time, drawing us together through laughter and tears. Her practical words of wisdom echoed in the occasional lulls of conversation,

"You all go on with your lives."

Grief is interwoven through our life experiences and we journey through it in different ways and at varied paces.

Sometimes grief is enjoying fellowship in the twilight, joining in childhood games once played with beloved grandparents and attempting to pass along a little of that magical feeling to your kids.

Sometimes grief is commiserating with one another through the distinctive depth of maternal loss, mourning together and finding memories that eventually bring you both a smile.