UPDATE 06-10-11: I just heard this song and realized it captures perfectly what this weekend meant to me. Go call your family, hug your kids. Time is precious. Don’t waste it.
I have spent the last couple of weeks getting ready for what I dubbed “Ashes to Ashes: A Memorial.” It started out as a simple memorial for my aunt who died in March, but quickly morphed into a family reunion, as a bunch of my extended family all decided to come.
So this past weekend we gathered in Pacific Grove/Monterey and spent two days visiting, sharing pics and memories and generally catching up. The last time so many of us saw each other was almost nine years ago at Chuck’s and my wedding.
Chuck and I drove up on Friday, stopping along the way at the San Fernando Mission where my mom is buried. We left some ashes at her grave, then continued up to the Monterey Peninsula. A bunch of us stayed at the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. We couldn’t have chosen a nicer place. The downstairs of the main house offered several large rooms where we could all gather and spread out our photos. Then from 4-6pm every afternoon they had wine and cheese and even the folks who weren’t staying at the inn were welcome. We can’t say enough great things about the Seven Gables – mostly we can’t wait to go back!
We spent Saturday morning looking at pictures and shooting the breeze about all that has happened since the last time we saw each other. For the folks with kids, there were lots of stories of graduations, marriage and grandkids. For the rest of us, there were pics of our pets. The reunion talk continued into the afternoon, and we all (17 of us!) went to dinner at the Chart House in Monterey (where they had custom menus made for us!). The revelry went on from 6pm until 11pm. What a hoot!
Sunday was the memorial part of the weekend, and I woke up at 4:30am with my brain in high gear, having finally (in my sleep, I guess) come up with what I wanted to say at the memorial. After I wrote my thoughts down, I was too juiced up to sleep, so went for a three mile sunrise run along the lovely bike path that runs along the Monterey Bay and felt like life was pretty darned excellent. We all congregated at the inn around 10am and carpooled up to the St. Francis Retreat in San Juan Bautista, which had been my aunt’s favorite place to walk and meditate. The views from the trails there look out over the Pajaro Valley and my aunt and her husband Harry lived in that area for most of their married life so it seemed like a perfect location to have our little memorial. We spread some ashes, shared some more memories and laughs, shed some tears and I read my little eulogy. We said our final farewell to my aunt, the last of her generation.
After that, we weren’t ready to say goodbye quite yet so most of us went into San Juan Bautista and had lunch together before everyone started going their separate ways. All in all, it was a pretty wonderful weekend.
Here (in a slightly edited version from the original) is my 4:30am brainstorm:
I’m going to cheat a bit. We’re supposed to share memories of Auntie A. But I’m going to share gifts. My mom has been gone for 44 years – most of my life, actually. I can’t quite touch her in my head anymore, hear her voice, feel what she was like as a person. But what I do remember, what she gave me, was and is a sense of love, of belonging. So more than any firm thing, her gift to me was an ephemeral sense of place, a sense of home that has nothing to do with brick and mortar buildings but everything to do with the heart.
My Auntie B, my mom’s slightly younger sister and to a later generation remembered forever as Dobbie (as a side note, I always think of her when I read Harry Potter!) was what I think of as my true north. When my mom was sick, she would come and be there for all of us, but most particularly she always looked out for me, and always made sure that I felt included and a part of things. When I was eight she put on my first and only birthday party (the trauma from which I never truly recovered). For most of my childhood I would go up and spend part of my summer with her and my uncle and cousins and get to feel, really and truly, like a part of the family. So that was her gift to me: a sense of being part of a family.
And then there was Auntie A. We kind of grew up together. In my early years she was a nun and pretty much one of the scariest people in my world. She would talk about how when I was a little kid that I would only approach her under duress. But then she left the convent and entered to real world, and we became friends. I got to know her as a person who loved tennis, the guitar, singing and, like me, books. We talked about life, the universe and everything. And when the time came, I helped a little in her final goodbyes to Auntie B. She helped me remember my mom and shared her memories of them all growing up. When she talked about my mom as a young woman, I could almost feel her again as a living, breathing human being. So her gift to me was the gift of memory.
A generation is now gone. But I look around at the family that gathered for this memorial and I realize that along with goodbyes we all are getting to say hello. A new generation (or two) is here, and isn’t it amazing and wonderful that we get to make all new memories now? I don’t know what gifts you all will give me in the years to come, but I do know that they will be wonderful, just like the gifts that my mom, my Auntie B and my Auntie A left me.