I park my car and sit for a few minutes alone to gather myself. I hold my head upon the steering wheel; this was not the moment I had in mind when I thought about reaching out to the family. I contemplate how life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns when one least expects them or even wants them. I say a short prayer before heading to the church.
I soon enter through two large old brown wooden doors that greet me at the entrance. Rows of flowers line both sides of the vestibule, along with candles and weeping people standing six feet apart. The morning light of the day shines across the room in silence; only a single candle flickers from the altar to brighten the lifesize crucifix hanging above from the front.
I am early; I make my way to the empty altar, the gentlewoman below the crucifix rests and does not stir. She lays alone in peace on the other side of the plexiglass barricade. I stand at a distance to give my last respects. Her hair of silver crowns her small quiet body. A pleasant goodbye smile slumbers across her silent red lips; no more to speak my name or kiss my cheek. She will no longer give hugs to greet me or to say farewell.
She lays in a pink floral print dress that is fresh and crisp.
I return to sit in the back row facing the commotion of spectators as they line up six feet apart to bib her one last farewell. The fragrance of incense roams the church to offer a spiritual homage to God and the woman who gave her life to him and her family.
Childhood memories long-forgotten stir my emotions; loving tears fill my eyes. I think of the many times she opens her home to my family when we have none. Her words of kindness play before me in bittersweet thoughts.
Her handmade tortillas with dripping butter, and beans, bite the hunger from my door many times.
She often has little to share, but she always shares what she has. A lady with a heart like hers is hard to find in this world. More so, one who never asks for anything in return. Although her own family is large, she never turns us away. Her famous words still ring in my ears. "Kimmy, adds some more water to the beans and make a few more tortillas. We have family here for dinner."
As I sit in the back of the church alone, I make sure my mask is secure tight about my face. I move to the far end, close to the aisle by the wall. With much hesitation, I attend the church service. My hands clutch and tremble with prayer as I drop to my knees. The sad thought of my life being devoid of her smiles and hugs forever here on earth hits me. My heart fills with pain as it breaks for her. It beats in a slow cadence as I offer my silent prayerful whispers to heaven. I wonder how do I apologize for a lifetime of neglect runs the emptiness of my soul. How do I even begin to tell her how much she means to me?
I take a breath as I lower my head, and the simple words begin to flow from my lips. They fill with such an energy of love and devotion, to my surprise. I know they will reach heaven from this holy place around me. That young child within speaks with the love that surrounds my being. Family ties seem anew with love, that fills the room and all the people that have gathered.
"Oh, my dear Aunt Mary, thank you for your kindness and the generosity you gave my family. If angels walk this earth? You are indeed one. You know I love you and always will be grateful you crossed my journey here on earth."
My Aunt Mary was the last link to my childhood pass. It was less than a week ago, she and I enjoy a simple meal of cookies and tea in her suite at Peaceful Pines. My cousin Kimmy also came to visit that day. Whom, I had not seen since my mother's funeral last spring.
We talk and share memories of long ago along with smiles and hugs. They also share many fond memories of my father that I have long forgotten. Perhaps it was the loss of my mother that finally urged me to visit.
Before I leave, I think of the many wasted years that have gone past. I promise my aunt and Kimmy that we will get together soon. We make plans to get together for the upcoming holidays. In anticipation of our future get-together, my aunt promises to share one of her famous bread pudding recipes.
The following week, her daughter, Kimmy, calls to notify me that my Aunt Mary is in a coma and dying from cancer. Where has all the time gone? The many years I missed knowing her and her family as an adult are gone forever.
Yet, here I sit alone, thinking about her one more time. I reflect on how to make it up to her. I gather myself off my knees and sit back in my seat. I stand and walk over to my cousin Kimmy and the rest of my Aunt Mary's family across the aisle. Kimmy and I look at each other with masked faces. Our teary eyes smile; we know we are family.
Since my Aunt Mary's funeral, I keep in monthly contact with my three cousins. We have gone out to dinner on a few occasions. Even though our lives have taken different paths, we still share old stories from our childhood and often share our plans. I know my Aunt Mary is gone, but her memory lives on in our hearts.
With the current pandemic still at hand, a family is so much more precious.