Always Welcoming, Always Bidding Farewell

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I’m writing and waiting for the phone to ring. My aunt fell ill on Sunday morning. She has pneumonia. Her kidneys are failing. She is ninety-five and ready to go home. I saw her last in March, at her birthday party. We had, at her request, rib eye steaks and sweet onions stuffed with butter and baked on the grill and angel food cake with seven-minute frosting, the cake she baked for every birthday. My cousin brought chocolate chip cookies made from the recipe on the back of the Nestle package. They are the cookies my aunt made several times a week, or often enough to keep the cookie jar full for the children who ran in and out of her kitchen, a cookie in each hand. The cookies are delicious, but not Margie’s and so, not quite right. But then we are not sun-browned and busy at our play as we eat, either, and that alters, in ways we cannot name, their taste and texture.

My pastor cautions me not to miss the joy.

My aunt nibbled at the food, but feasted on our faces and touch and the sound of our voices. She was ready to celebrate and she was, and is, ready to go home.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say good-bye

I got the news about my aunt as my husband and I drove away from the parish church just north of Denver where our eight-year old godson received Holy Communion for the first time. It was a sea of black suits and white dresses and veils, a blinding array of shined shoes, as fifty second graders made their way to the altar. I embraced his mother, a woman I have known since she was a little girl. I watched her grow up and helped shepherd her through college as the leader of her campus Catholic Community. We held her wedding rehearsal dinner in our backyard.

First Communion

We had stopped on the way to Mass to visit two of our former pastors, good men who labored long and faithfully and now live in a retirement home in central Denver where medical care is close at hand and they are free to rest and read and pray and remember. We thanked them for their care and faith. We spoke of changes in their former diocese, considered some of the newly ordained among us, men who revere rules above all. Wise Father John said simply, “They’re missing so much joy.”

As I read the texts from those at my aunt’s bedside and sent my own to siblings and cousins and children, we drove to our son’s house farther south in Denver. We had a date to walk to a nearby ice cream shop with our son and his wife and children, a celebration of our granddaughter’s fourth birthday.

My husband drives as I text and pull up airline schedules, looking for flights to Amarillo. My grandson’s Confirmation is in three days. His sister’s First Communion is scheduled for the following Sunday. I am wondering, again, how to manage it all, these tides that roll in and out of my life.

I expect the tides, regular as they are, but I am often not prepared for all that they carry to my shores.

We are driving home in the waning light. Monument Hill is up ahead, the 7,000-foot pass that divides the Front Range and marks the final stretch down into Colorado Springs. Traffic stops. We can see no end to the line of cars before us. Alongside the stationary cars, ambulances and police cars speed past, their red lights rotating, their sirens sounding. There has been an accident, a bad one we guess. My husband and I pray. We pray for the people whose lives have been overturned and perhaps ended. We pray for those who will hear the news and must then bear it. We pray for the children in this season of First Communions and Confirmations. We pray for a child on her fourth birthday and an aunt on her deathbed.

We are always welcoming and we are always bidding farewell. It is our life, our life together.

My grandson declares, “Ma-Maw makes the best chocolate cake.” I learned the importance of those aromas and tastes in a child’s life from women my grandson does not remember. But he will remember me. And he, God willing, will make memories for grandchildren I will likely never meet.

He will remember begging for another piece, remember licking the frosting from the bowl and off his fingers. He will remember grabbing a piece of cake and heading into the yard to play on one of those long summer days that stretch and stretch until sleep and darkness overtake him.

I feel the days contracting.

But I hear Father John, my pastor still, as he cautions me not to miss the joy: The light joy as we gather to join a small, suited and gap-toothed brother before the altar and the heavy joy as we prepare to gather and commit our sister to the grave.