As I got out of my car at the cemetery, there was no mistaking it was the first day of fall. I wore a sweater against the chill. The others huddled in small groups around the grave site also wore coats and long-sleeve shirts.
This was not a funeral. Aunt Connie had made her wishes clear before she passed. She did not want a funeral. She did not want a death notice. She was to be cremated immediately. Out of respect for her wishes, my cousin had called the family and close friends now assembled to simply mark the day of her interment.
The ceremony was brief. The urn with her cremains was set on a pedestal. My cousin’s wife read the eulogy that he had penned.
He had written about how his mother always had time to talk. These words brought a flood of memories. When I was growing up, I would have lunch with Aunt Connie every few months. Not only did she want to hear about the goings-on in my life, she liked to keep up-to-date on what was going on in the world, subscribing to The Wall Street Journal and other news magazines. She motivated me to be well-read in order to keep up in our talks. She asked thought-provoking questions that made me reconsider my firmly-held convictions of youth.
As the eulogy continued, I smiled at the mention of how much she loved to visit over pie and coffee. In addition to leading conversations that made me think, Aunt Connie also inspired me to take chances. During one of our lunches I ordered sour cream raisin pie. I was pleasantly surprised and glad I had tried it. Sour cream raisin pie became a symbol between us of taking a risk.
The autumn wind stirred leaves near the grave as my cousin’s wife read. Each phrase triggered a memory. I could picture chatting with Aunt Connie at a family get-together. She had a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh to match. After moving out-of-state, I saw Connie less frequently. I looked forward to our brief visits over the holidays.
When the eulogy concluded, those gathered were reluctant to leave despite the chilly autumn air. Even though she had told us we didn’t need to, Aunt Connie’s family wanted to say goodbye. We wanted to show her that she had been loved and would be missed. It was decided that the family would remain to witness the burial. As township employees moved in, the family made way for them to work.
I had been standing behind the headstone and now moved to the front. Aunt Connie had been a widow as long as I knew her, her husband having been killed on the job before I was born. Her name now appeared beside his on the monument. She was being buried in the plot next to her sister. She and my grandma had very different personalities, often in conflict. Still, I could picture the mannerisms and love they shared. Each in her own way was a strong, independent woman that I admired. I fought back tears as I looked at their names.
Even after the urn had been buried, the family lingered. I had not seen many of these relatives for many years. I chatted with them, marveling at the family resemblances that I had never noticed as a child. After an hour, I gave final hugs and said my goodbyes.
My husband and son were at home. Philip was battling a cold. In addition to being the first day of fall, it was his fourth birthday, and his party was scheduled for that afternoon. I thought it was best that he stay home.
I’d like to say that I live my life without regrets, but that wouldn’t be honest. Since my husband is the stay-at-home parent, I do my best to spend as much time with Philip as I can. I guess it is out of a sense of guilt that I decline invitations to events, feeling obligated to stay home. I suppose I worry that it is unfair to Peter for me to say, “I’m off to do this thing and of course you’ll stay home with our son.”
That’s probably why the last time I visited Aunt Connie was the Christmas after Philip was born. By that time, she was mostly confined to her home, no longer joining us at family gatherings or venturing out for pie and coffee.
Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling regret if I hadn’t moved back to my hometown over a year ago into a house only one street away from my great aunt’s. I’ve walked the dog by her house thinking I should stop for a visit, but I never did. Maybe I thought that I couldn’t take Philip. Maybe I worried about how much time had passed since the last visit. Maybe I was concerned she wouldn’t feel up to a visit. For whatever reason, I missed my chance to talk with her, hear her laugh and let her know how important she had been to me.
After leaving the cemetery, my thoughts turned to preparing for Philip’s party. He was feeling better and had a great day. At 4:30 am, his residual cough woke me. He fell back asleep, but now I’m awake reflecting on yesterday, writing this all down. The juxtaposition of Aunt Connie’s memorial service and Philip’s birthday on the first day of fall brings these verses from Ecclesiastes to my mind:
To everything there is a season, and
a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die . . .
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . .
There are days when the time to mourn is shortly followed by the time to dance. Yesterday was one of those days.