2013.09.05 A funeral in the north


One of my mother's sisters was buried last week. The baby of the family is dead at age 86, leaving my mother and her older sister Joan.

Aunt Toni made a big decision a few months ago. Cancer was discovered that left her with the option of going through a lot of painful chemo and radiation treatments—an unpleasant extension of life—or declaring that it was time to let go.

Aunt Toni said something equivalent to "I've had a good life" and she waited for the cancer to take over. It was a good choice. She had a pleasant final few months until the last weeks when her condition deteriorated.

Colleen and I drove with my parents north to Alpena Wednesday for the funeral. Five hours of driving, but a drive that ends on U.S. 23 as it follows Lake Huron north.

It seemed as though all the traveling relatives were staying at the same motel and breakfast the next morning quickly became a reunion. Those who weren't there we caught up with at the church during a visitation before the service. And what a service.

Pastor Gene Bacon at the First Methodist captured Aunt Toni's life so well. He delivered an excellent portrayal of what she was like and filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge about the woman. I even learned she and my Uncle Burt were part of the cooperative observer program of the National Weather Service, just like George Isobar in the Observer weather reports. I don't think they ever told me that.

The pastor mentioned that volunteer position in regard to Toni's steadfast dedication to attending to obligations and things that needed to get done. As she was lying on the couch during one of her last days, she pestered Uncle Burt about calling in the rainfall data from the previous day.

Sitting in the pew for the service gave me time to study far-away cousins and cousins’ kids. Lena from Portland is always stunning. Dylan, the soccer player, has blue fingernails. What's that all about? Scott from Chicago sat in front of me and I suddenly noticed that I could see clear through his ears. Those ear plugs are hollow in the middle. He's a hair dresser in a shop where haircuts now cost 85 bucks.

His sister, Sarah, is also living in Chicago. Her black hair and black dress gave her a black demeanor and she looked a little sullen. I just can't remember these two second cousins and it was fascinating to watch them.

Cousin Sue said a few words at the end of the service. It's always easy to picture her as the elementary school principal that she once was. Cousin Jeff took over. I noticed how much he uses his hands when he speaks. I always remember when he was living in upstate New York and I stopped by for a visit when I pedaled home from Maine. He wasn't home, so I left a dirty T-shirt that would somehow let him know it was me. I no longer remember what the shirt wording was that would give the hint.

Next Cousin Tim took the microphone. He became a pastor after a career with an industry—well, it wasn't just any industry. Go out to the street and see where your sewer or manhole cover was made. It was probably East Jordan Iron Works. From sewers to the pulpit.

I don't know why, but Tim is always the one who makes me think we're still kids playing Risk or running together along Bean Creek. I remember all the cousins when we were all children, but Tim somehow is still a kid to me. With a beard.

A luncheon followed the service—an excellent potluck from church members—and I had the opportunity to visit with the mystery second cousins. Sarah was anything but sullen. She's a bright, outgoing student from Loyola who's studying eastern cultures.

We spoke with Uncle Burt before we departed and he seemed to be doing OK. He was appreciative of all the people who attended the service and luncheon and the situation easily reminded me of the good side of a funeral—you get to see so many relatives who live so far away.

During the long drive home, I remembered something that Uncle Burt wanted us to understand about the sad situation.

"We've had a good life," he said.