John and I drove to Maine again this weekend. We seem to be getting up there a lot this semester, which is great, but I wish our reasons for going this time had been a little less sad. A dear, kind lady with a bright spirit passed away last week. It’s hard to put her relationship to me into words. Technically, she was my mother’s sister’s husband’s mother, which I guess makes her a great-aunt of a sort to me. Sentimentally, she was one of the kindest and most joyful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and though I never had the chance to know her very well, she was still one of the people I was always most delighted to see at a family gathering.
Funerals can be unnerving things to attend. Grief touches people in very different ways, and it’s hard to know how to offer some consolation for the loss of someone who loved them, whom they loved. So John and I, along with two of my sisters, erred on the side of solemn respect, dressing in black and arriving to the cemetery early.
An hour early, actually, as it turned out. The funeral was being held in the far northern reaches of Maine, and we weren’t exactly sure how long it would take to get there. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that the cemetery was about half an hour past civilization and we hadn’t wanted to stop on the way in, just to make sure we had enough time to get there. Girls being girls and two-hour car trips being two-hour car trips, this meant that my sisters and I all arrived at the cemetery with full bladders to discover that there were neither public bathrooms in the vicinity nor did we quite have time to turn around and find any.
It’s okay, you can laugh. We did. And I think it’s the mark of a great person’s life that we could enjoy a chuckle about our discomfort beside her ashes and know that she (and her loved ones) would find no disrespect in our laughter. I didn’t see any crying beside the grave on Saturday, but many wide smiles over the memory of the life our friend lived. She lived a life full of joy and adventure, and it showed on the faces of the people who came to say their goodbyes.
I was not looking forward to our visit to Maine as we hit the road north Friday afternoon because I’ve been lucky enough to have said goodbye to very few people I’ve cared about, and I’m rubbish at processing the sadness of loss. I turn into a weepy mess very, very quickly. So it surprised me a little to find that I didn’t struggle to smile at the floating eyeball situation of my sisters and I as the funeral ended, and it surprised me to realize that I felt completely, peacefully happy a few hours later as I sat with my husband and father beside a bonfire, plucking out old Irish ballads and drinking songs on the guitar with my youngest sister.
I think I will call my life well-lived if someday people can sit beside my grave with memorial smiles on their faces, their happiness at having known me outweighing their sadness at losing me.