Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Last One Standing

I repeatedly expressed gratitude that it was early autumn and not winter as we drove across the desolate, windy Wyoming plains. I know from experience that winter driving in that region can be treacherous. I looked across at my mother, knowing that the trip would be challenging for her. But there was no way she could miss the funeral of her last remaining sibling.

Mom's parents married in Illinois. Like many others of their era, they migrated piecemeal westward as their family grew to include a dozen kids. They lived for a few years in Nebraska and then hopped back and forth between northern Wyoming and southern Montana, finally settling in Wyoming. They always farmed and Grandpa found various jobs, finishing out his career working in the oil fields.

Most of the kids and their descendants migrated away from Wyoming over time. But Mom's sister stayed and raised her family there, even after being widowed relatively young and then having most of her kids move away. (Most of them also eventually moved back.)

I think that the thing I will always remember best about my aunt is her perpetually cheery disposition, despite the many adversities life threw at her. She happily lived quite frugally her entire adult life and never bothered to spend much on luxuries or self pampering. I might also remember her collection of unusual salt and pepper shakers. My aunt's cognitive abilities diminished during her final years until she couldn't live on her own. My cousin has handled most of her care over the past year.

The blessings of a large family became evident as we gathered for the funeral. The number of family members in attendance was impressive, although, it represented only a fraction of my grandparents' descendants. Acquaintances were renewed and fond memories were shared. The service was comforting.

Afterward we followed the hearse to a bleak, windswept cemetery, where my aunt's remains were to be interred beside those of her husband. Following a brief graveside service, numerous family members came forward to greet my mother. As the line of well wishers surged, I realized that most of them expected this to be their last chance to say goodbye to Mom in this life.

Mom harbors strength that is not readily apparent, but she definitely appears far more frail than the strong woman she once was. Still, I can hardly blame family members for thinking that they may never have a chance to see her again. We get involved in the pressing matters of daily life and don't get around to spending time with those that don't fall immediately into our path. As Frost wrote, "Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back."

That evening I sat at the dining table in my cousin's house with Mom, a few cousins, and a family friend, while many of my cousins' children and grandchildren conversed in the living room. We looked at books of old photos that my cousin has carefully assembled and chatted about old times. Will I ever see a scene like that again?

Although Mom wasn't certain she could make the trip, she has repeatedly thanked me for taking her up there and taking care of her on the trip. I'm not sure that she will ever consent to make another trip like that. I will ever be thankful that I took time to take Mom to her sister's funeral.

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