See You Later, Aunt Darleen


So, today we’re traveling over an hour and a half south to go to my aunt’s funeral. I’ll be honest, I’m not looking forward to it. I tend to not do well in these sort of situations. I get really anxious and as part of the anxiety, I end up breaking down like there’s no tomorrow. I remember the first time it happened–I was in my early teens and I was at a funeral for a family member that I barely knew. I should have been fine, but seeing her husband upset and staring at her picture through the service was just too much and I started crying and couldn’t stop. In the case of Aunt Darleen, I knew her a ton better than I knew that family member all those years ago, so I know there will be some serious upset today.

And I miss her already. I can’t say enough that she was such a wonderful person. She worked in the special education field for years and her generosity knew no bounds. I remember spending a weekend at her house with my older sisters when I was a kid and going to a HUGE family reunion there when I was a bit older.

But here’s one story I’ll always remember:

At a family picnic a few years ago, Aunt Darleen was there for me in a way that meant the entire world. I had suffered a miscarriage just a few months before and I was still a little edgy about it. At the picnic, Aunt Darleen and I happened to be standing next to each other when I noticed Greg playing with a couple of my cousin Candace’s kids. Tears spray to my eyes because he was so good with kids and he and I had been so excited when I got pregnant. Just seeing him playing with those kids made that day that I miscarried come back strongly in my mind. The fear, the sorrow and the worry that maybe we wouldn’t be able to have kids at all.

Aunt Darleen must have followed my line of sight and she saw what I saw. And then she saw the tears gathering in my eyes. I hadn’t said a word about what I was thinking, but she knew. She put her arm around me and said quietly, “It will happen. Don’t worry. It will happen.”

I just nodded and tried to swallow my sadness before anyone else noticed.

Not even a year later, I found out I was pregnant with Zoey and at the next family picnic that Aunt Darleen was able to attend, I got the chance to remind her of her comforting words. And we both took a moment to sort of revel in the fact that I had felt such sadness at the time she comforted me, but now I was busy following a crazy crawling infant around.

It was just a tiny moment, but it meant the world.

Also, she told me she liked Greg a lot and he was a keeper. So clearly, she had great taste.

Because of the fact that Aunt Darleen’s passing was unexpected and that it was so close to the last death in our family, I’ll be honest–I’ve been trying to make sense of it all. With Greg’s mom, I was able to say that she wasn’t sick anymore, she wasn’t in pain. And to an extent, I was able to do that with Aunt Darleen, who suffered from Lupus, along with other stuff, and had had a pacemaker for years. But it was the surprise aspect of it all–and the fact that another one of my aunts had passed away just four months before and then Greg’s mom… it just seemed like too much.

I’m not a very religious person, but I believe in God and Heaven and that there must be a reason for all of THIS. But I found my faith shaken when all of the death and loss between Greg’s and my families took place in the course of about five months. It didn’t seem fair. What was the reason? I didn’t understand and it frustrated me (which probably just meant I had entered the anger stage of grieving, right?).

And then I got a private message on Facebook from my cousin, Crystal (her mom was my aunt that had passed away a little over four months ago). She said a couple of things in her message that really struck a chord with me and I hope she doesn’t mind that I’m going to share them with you here.

I know it is so hard to lose someone you love and you really have had several losses so close together, I absolutely understand what you are saying it is so hard seeing death from this perspective. One of the things that has helped me with all of this is thinking about the homecoming they are getting on the other side. There are so many people that they love there and I am sure it is just an amazing reunion they are having. Our preacher said death is like a sailboat on the horizon we on this side see them slip away and are gone and on the other side there are those who are saying look! look! here she comes.

Somehow, that idea made all the difference for me; it calmed my anger and frustration and actually made me feel a little better. I wrote her back and told her that the sailboat analogy was exactly the perspective I needed.

I’ve always felt that there’s MORE out there, that this life, when it ends, isn’t really the end. And that’s why I refuse to say goodbye to family members who pass away. I only say, “See you later” because I feel there will be a Later.

And if that’s the case, Aunt Dar, I expect to see you on the dock to welcome me when my sailboat gets there.


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