It’s been a week since Aunt Mary Lou died. It was early in the morning, in her home, as though she fell asleep for the last time.
When I heard the news, I hustled to book a flight, a rental car and a hotel room. I was airborne Thursday afternoon and touched down in Philly by 1130 Friday morning. I visited my sister at her salon and then joined my mother and Uncle Ralph, a new widower, for dinner Friday evening. Saturday was the viewing, funeral mass, burial and celebration at Taylor’s Sports Restaurant and Bar on the Black Horse Pike.
Aunt Mary Lou has 10 grandchildren, all in their 20s and 30s. They took the long center table at Taylor’s. I know these kids. Three of them lost their mother, our eldest cousin Maureen, in a motorcycle accident. We are incomplete because Maureen is gone, but you have to make do. Her three children have become adults without her guidance. It cannot be easy. And no matter how hard a man tries, it’s pretty tough to be both parents. My heart is heavy for them.
At the viewing I got to see my cousins for the first time in a couple of years. They stood in a reception line as Aunt Mary Lou’s friends and family came through to pay their respects. I observed my cousins as they spoke with people who came to them, sharing their memories and sharing tears. Every time someone came through, the reception line would be brought to tears again. It had to be exhausting, I hope it was cathartic. In an open casket was Aunt Mary Lou. She wore a scarf and her hands clutched a rosary of red crystals. She was my Godmother.
Because I have been away for so long, I have grown apart from my family. This trip to New Jersey really showed me how much I have changed. The most significant change is my lack of a lead foot when behind the wheel. Thank goodness I’m in a rental car with Florida plates because I’m pretty certain I frustrate the heck out of every driver on these roads. I would be driving along on a back-country road (Yes, South Jersey is loaded with them) at 35mph and see a sign that says the speed limit is 50 (as indicated by the headlights behind me).
As a family member, I’m an outsider. I am not here enough to know all the goings on, who is doing what, what children and grandchildren are up to, who needs a prescription, who needs new eyeglasses, who is vegan, who is vegetarian, who’s staying married, who’s getting divorced, who’s struggling with what.
Every time I show up is a good time, even now. When I visit, and this has always been the case for the 36 years I have not lived in New Jersey, we all get together and have fun. Barbecues, parties, out to dinner, to the beach, all kinds of excursions.
Life goes on when someone we love dies. While we have to drop everything to take care of the details of death, we (and I mean my cousins mostly) must resume as soon as possible the matters of life. This time there weren’t any get togethers after Saturday and Sunday. I would imagine everyone has to go back to work, catch up with laundry, and live life.
So I am alone in my hotel room. I have paid my respects, I have offered my support, I have arrived to give Aunt Mary Lou my farewell in person. My cousins were so appreciative of my being here because I had come so far. Each of them is worth the trip. It was what I needed to do.
Tonight friends met with me at Ott’s Tavern in Delran. I spread myself too thin. I didn’t get to talk to any one person enough. It was enough and it wasn’t enough. When we are kids we have no idea how valuable time is. Now that we are older, we should. It is nearly priceless.
This is my contemplation. Time is swift. I will soon be checking out of my hotel room, driving myself to the airport, and getting myself from here to Hawaii, traveling solo through Philadelphia, Houston, LAX and HNL, where my husband will take me home where I belong.
They say they miss me. It is a wonderful thing to know.