Sunday, March 19, 2006

Funeral tango

Last week my aunt Nancy passed away. I've been lucky in my life not to have had to attend too many funerals, but ever since we found out that Nancy had cancer a year or so ago, we knew this day would come. Yet it didn't affect me the way it did others, mainly because I never knew her all that well. When I was little, I'd see her at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and at the grandparents' birthdays, but that was about it. And when I did see her, she was always very quiet, listening intently to others but rarely saying much. So it came as a surprise today during the memorial service to hear that those who were closest to her remember her as being lively and passionate, especially about politics. And I thought, somewhat annoyed, "where was this Aunt Nancy? I would've liked to have known her."

Nancy was my aunt on my dad's side, through marriage to my uncle Tom. This side of the family has never been all the close-knit, perhaps because there are so many of them (my dad's one of seven, and there are a whole mess of grandkids too) and they're fairly dispersed. So while my parents and I keep in contact with everyone on that side, we only see a few of them with any regularity, and Nancy and Tom weren't one of these few. By the time I went off to college, I rarely attended family functions, mostly due to other commitments and the feeling I got that missing them wouldn't be that big a deal (plus my grandmother has a whole mess of cats, and I'm allergic). But now I wonder if maybe I should have made more time for this side of the family- whereas some people relate better to kids (my grandpa is great with kids, but has a harder time with adults), others are more interesting when you've grown up. I think that Nancy fit into the latter group, and now it's too late for me to get to know her.

I attended today's service and expressed my condolences to her loved ones. They were taking it pretty well under the circumstances, and I'm grateful I haven't yet had to deal with a loss like this. Still, the whole occasion gave me pause, since as I hardly knew Nancy, I hardly felt a sense of loss. And this seemed wrong to me. I realize that we can't go around mourning everyone who passes away, but she was family, and she was never enough a part of my life for me to miss her now that she's gone. I felt a little out of place, truth be told. I suppose I'm lucky, that I'm far enough removed from the loss that I can be philosophical about it, and that my thoughts may yet spur me to connect on a more significant level with my family before I lose them too. I do know this- if I ever lose someone who's truly close, I fear that it will hit me hard.

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