My great-aunt passed away on Valentine’s Day.
I went to the back of my closet and pull out some dresses. I decided on one grey for the wake, one black for the funeral.
I don’t feel old, but I feel older. I understand and appreciate the rituals to mourn the dead.
I moved through the day, half there, half not. Dressed the kids, made them breakfast, played Luke’s new board game, read. Prayed.
Life moves in cycles and patterns through generations. Death does too.
My aunt was the second youngest of five and the only sister of my grandfather and his brothers.
We haven’t buried a Gambino in over ten years.
I put the three year old down for a nap; if they’re all coming to the wake, the little one ought to be rested.
I read articles about what mourning means and ettiquette for wakes with my 8 year old. I explained what would be there, how the room would be set up, who would be there, and explained that aunt Nancy’s body would be there but that her soul was already with the Lord. That there was nothing to fear in death. She understood.
I never knew my great grandparents or great great aunts and uncles like my children have. I never had to say goodbye.
The first wake I ever went to was when I was a junior in high school, when my grandfather’s brother Angelo passed away.
It’s time to go. I help the older ones get changed into their nicer clothes and wake the little one. We go over expectations, practice handshakes, practice words to be spoken.
I put on my dress. It’s awful. I change three times and am finally ready to go.
It’s a blur of people and family and sadness and laughter. There isn’t enough time or space. There hasn’t been enough time together. There’s never enough time. There’s a sadness for the slow passing of a generation, a sadness because my aunt was the glue, the last matriarch of the Gambinos.
My great aunt, like her brothers, exuded love. When you were in her presence and her husband’s you just felt unconditionally loved. There’s not a lot of people like that. Fierce loyalty to family was a hallmark of their generation. They loved one another not only in word but in deed.
We say our goodbyes and come home. Sleep. Wake. Get dressed for the funeral. The kids stay home with a sweet friend of mine.
We settle in next to my mom and her brother and sister. I don’t often see them cry. Its seems like you cry for the immediate loss, and then your old losses and the losses that you know will still come. I don’t envy them, to see the generation above them slowly disappear.
The eulogy is beautiful and eloquent. The procession begins to leave. I’ve never seen my great uncle look so broken. I’ve never known a widower in our family.
We drive to the cemetery, say the final prayers, place roses on her coffin.
As the sun begins to set on this generation it feels like a loss of the way things used to be. Our lives today are so hurried, so fragmented, so devoid of the deep and meaningful relationships that were the hallmark of my aunt’s generation.