I never thought that the first real dead body I'd see up close, with no frou-frou dressings would be my father-in-law (post on this to come, but this flashback came out). I grew up watching people die, but was never there for the moment. And, frankly, it's been a long time since someone in close proximity has died. Family members die far away and I buy a plane ticket for a funeral. Or not. There are many I have missed. My last big funeral was my Aunt Diane's. It was very sad. We all still miss her terribly. I saw her as she got sicker, but when I arrived that last time, all I saw was her coffin, closed shut, with a photo of her on top.
We're mostly Catholic and she was Southern Baptist, so it was different than the funerals we had growing up. But, we still had it. The ritual. Without any big gaps waiting for an 'appropriate time' or godless remembrances. She passed away, we came. Right away. Aunt Diane, dying of cancer, and becoming even more faithful in the process, was able to plan her last party, complete with a healthy dose of fire and brimstone proselytizing to all the Catholics in the audience who were thumbing rosaries in secret. She was very worried about us, about our very souls and because she loved us, it seemed a heaven without us all with her, wouldn't be heaven at all.
But, the constants were there. We were in the Church that she took me when my Uncles was out of town and she could skip out on Mass. I knew nearly everyone there. The tiny country Church was packed to the rafters with family and friends, some who had also traveled from their own far away settlements. I even saw my sixth grade band director.
After the funeral in Raceland, filled with preaching and good old timey gospel music, we went home, took a breather, and drove nearly two hours north to Central Louisiana, in a tiny, tiny town where we buried her with her family in a lovely old graveyard. At the chapel, we listened to yet another sermon about how we needed to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal savior and more old timey music. We laughed. A lot.
Years earlier, Aunt Diane went back to her childhood faith without expressing any judgment on her adopted Cajun family. While she raised her own daughter, she dutifully took her to Mass and sent her to Catholic school. But, after some years of feeling lost, before she got sick, she went back to her old timey place, and we all feel that she found herself again and it was that true faith, one that didn't express judgment on those around her that gave her peace, right up to her end. It was profound to see.
After the second funeral and the burial, we all went to the church hall for a traditional southern post-funeral feast. One that she would have appreciated all the more. Aunt Diane's family are a gregarious bunch and they joked and told stories even while they cried. Photos were taken out and we laughed some more. My Aunt was famous for slipping photos of herself when, she gave you a frame as a gift and many people never put other pictures in those frames.
It was a healing process. And we grateful to share that time. In my family, when you marry into it (often even if you get divorced and remarried), the inlaws become one and through the years we felt just as much a part of her sisters and brothers and I hope they felt the same way about us.
My aunt died in Nov. 2005. We all still miss her and talk about her as if she'll show up at a crawfish boil, bringing her famous brownies. Or, Thanksgiving, her cornbread dressing.