Zach, Alex, and I just came back from a quick, three-night, trip to Colorado.
My family lives…everywhere. Here in Pittsburgh it is simply my mother and the three of us; my grandparents are in Florida; my uncle and aunt are in California; great uncle and great aunts in Colorado; second (or something? I never can seem to keep it straight) cousins in Tennessee. Needless to say, it isn’t easy for all of us to get together.
In fact, the last time I saw the whole family was 10 years ago. In those ten years I graduated from high school, graduated from college, had Alex, graduated from nursing school, and am on my third job since graduating from nursing school. Each and every family member has changed and grown in various ways, too.
I’m sad to say that it took a death in the family for all of us to get together again.
My great aunt lost her husband a few months ago. When he passed, it was decided that everyone who could would gather in Colorado for services.
We spent our three nights in a very funky house way up in the mountains with a few family members. Zach and my grandfather managed to light the grill for dinner our first night with a small lighter and the handle of a shopping bag. Between all of us, we easily killed 50 flies that were constantly in the kitchen. On our last night there, I saw a mouse scurry under a kitchen cabinet.
Alex very much enjoyed seeing new (to him) members of the family: he had never met most of them.
On our last night, we all gathered in the library at the retirement community my great uncle and great aunt reside in, a beautiful place right in Boulder. Various members of the family spoke of our lost family member’s life: his intelligence, smile, total humbleness even in the absolutely amazing things he had done, his love of bacon, high-waisted brown polyester pants, and how he was there for many of us during trying times. Pictures were shared. Chocolate covered bacon was passed around.
Alex was with us throughout the services. He sat on my lap for the first few minutes, but, as any kid would have, he got restless quickly. People were crying, stories were told, and Alex wasn’t quite able to get it.
I was initially worried about how the rest of the family would react to Alex on the floor, silently playing with a small airplane-that-turns-into-a-pen, rolling back and forth as he looked from one person to another. Zach offered to take him out of the room.
But as I continued to watch everyone, it seemed that his presence was not only tolerated, but wanted. The death of someone in the family is hard; losing the eldest member of our family is devastating. But being able to look at the newest generation quietly playing on the floor seemed almost grounding. I watched my uncle, great aunt, cousins, smile at Alex as he looked at them. Blow kisses through their tears.
I think Alex did exactly what was needed: he recognized the importance, the gravity, of what was happening around him and remained silent, but as a five-year-old he wasn’t able to stay completely still. He respected the room, quietly playing, and brought lightness to a dark time.
Alex never met his great-great uncle. I only met him once, and it was many, many, years ago. Too long ago to even remember. But as I watched his family, my family, Alex’s family, I didn’t need to know him to feel the sadness of losing him. He will be missed by us all.
Rest in Peace, John.