For the past week or more, my mind has been occupied with life and death. I lost a dearly loved aunt, a nephew suffered a serious head injury and was hospitalized (he’s home now, but still very limited in what he’s permitted to do), and my youngest daughter scared the life out of me, although her five-week premature son is doing better than anyone could have hoped.
It’s been harrowing, to say the least. Caught between grief and jubilation, the rituals of death and birth commanded my thoughts.
My aunt went into the convent the year I was born. The evolution of her habit from something akin to a full-length woolen torture device with a stiff, white bib and a headdress more like architectural framing than a wimple that concealed everything from her eyebrows up to something lighter and more comfortable is chronicled in family photos.
I still recall me and my sister running up to one of the convents where they stationed her and announcing to the girl who answered the door we were there to see Aunt —. Asea, the novice looked at my mom who quickly explained we were there to see Sister Mary—. My sister and I disagreed. We wanted to see Aunt—! Mom then had the joy of explaining to a confused five and six-year-old that the sisters took new names upon entering the order.
That was my first clue there was more to Aunt’s life than living with a bunch of ladies who liked to dress funny and be addressed as Sister.
Her religion was her bastion, her faith, her solace. She took comfort in the repetition, the familiarity of daily mass, and the various liturgies. Every situation had a preset protocol to guide and direct.
The funeral mass was lengthy and the eulogy heartfelt since the priest who gave it had been a student of my aunt’s and, when he lost his mother as a young boy, she’d held out her hand to help him cope. A loving woman, with a soft-spot for children, her arms and heart were always open. A phone call would have someone added to the convent prayer list, and that person would be held up daily until another call said the crisis had been averted or the need had passed.
Instead of being interred with her birth family, she is interred among the sisters of her order who’ve been her religious family for more than 50 years. That’s okay. I’m sure that’s what she would have wanted. Even so, while we honored her choice and were willing to share, she was, is, and always will be one of us.
The last time I saw her, she attended my daughter’s baby shower and had my granddaughter in her lap. Smiling and laughing, she played with the baby. It’s a good memory to hold.
Because she died in the hospital after what should have been minor surgery, I don’t know if she received the Last Rites prescribed by the Catholic Church before she left us. I do know her lifetime of faith will see her safely home (Acts 16:31).
While at the funeral, we received a call about our daughter. Pre-eclampsia. They wanted to induce as soon as possible. Before they could, another call. Her water broke. Ready or not, our grandson was on the way.
My aunt would have been thrilled. She would have said something like, “This family is so big, someone had to make space for the newest member.”
Youngest daughter has a couple of health issues and lives far from home. Unable to go to her, I took a page from my aunt’s book and prayed—a lot. Our grandson came into the world weighing less than a nice roasting chicken and not much more than a scrawny fryer—3lbs 11oz—but he’s healthy and already gaining weight.
A friend reminded me, without death we would soon be forced to deny young women the joy of motherhood. Without renewal, in time, mankind would stagnate, cease to stride forward because there would be no new perspectives, no innocent eyes to see something and ask “why?” Although all I have is a photograph, seeing the look on my baby girl’s face when she held her son, while it didn’t take the grief away, did bring my friend’s point home. Even after all these years, the memory of the love that filled my heart when I first held my children burns bright. Not even to save myself grief would I ever deny any young woman that life-altering experience.
The circle is complete.
Ah, yes, I meant to write on the rituals of life and death. Well, I have—sort of. Eulogizing is a common ritual, isn’t it? As is announcing a birth. I’ve done both.
Anything more will have to wait for another blog, folks. This one is a selfish one just for me. My heart hurts even as it rejoices. Leave it to my aunt. I’m confident she’s looking down from heaven either smiling or out-right laughing.
Love you, Aunt. Always will.