My aunt Gina passed away this summer.
I took this photo of her at her 50th birthday party in May.
She'd been fighting colon cancer for four years and then
there just wasn't anything
could do about it
So when I went home to MI we got the call that she wasn't doing well and "it was time to come say goodbye". My big girl and I drove to her house. We didn't even need the street address because we could see from a distance all of the cars already parked there - some right on the lawn. My aunt Gina is the sixth of nine children, 6 girls and three boys, with a husband and four kids of her own. My mom is her oldest sister. The first family we saw were the husbands of my other aunts and my cousins and my cousin's kids in the doorway and sitting up the stairs. And then I walked in the room and someone invited me to sit in the chair at her side to hold her hand. I brought a brown scapular and a holy card with me in the hopes of showing them to her because she had such a fondness for St. Bernadette, but she was already so far gone I just laid them on her heaving chest. I counted all eight of her siblings. The entire family were deep in prayer and so I joined them as I began to process the bitter taste of pure sorrow. Father Larry arrived to anoint her and give her a final blessing and his voice boomed in that quiet room as he stood so tall at her bedside, "what can separate us from the love of Jesus...not death..." And then we sang Hail Holy Queen. The first verse ends with "Regina" which is Latin for Queen and I began asking Our Blessed Mother to guide our Gina into heaven. I asked my friend Beth and other good people who had passed to help if they could.
The death watch
is hard to watch.
I struggled with the words "beautiful death" because death is actually so incredibly ugly. I guess the word "beautiful" would apply to the way she was surrounded with love and prayers and family and friends - but oh to see life leave a person! Gina was so full of life. Her laughter, though I shall never hear it again, is one I will never forget. And she gave life
to four children who sat there and mourned mightily
for the imminent loss of their mother.
Her husband, so faithful, so kind, so gentle, whispered in her ear that it was
okay to go.
My poor grandma waited with the rest of us as her daughter and friend readied to leave this world. The five remaining sisters would soon lack a level in the harmony they once shared. Then I remembered hearing Gina sing when I was a child. At first, I thought it was a recording and asked where the sound was coming from. "That's Gina practicing for a wedding" my other aunt explained. "Ave Maria," like the twitter of a bird, wafted into my small, delighted ears.
We left the house at 3 o'clock that day and Gina died 45 minutes later. 3:45. No matter how much your head expects such predictable news, there is still shock to the heart when it finally arrives. The jolt of loss ripples through one's mind, body and soul and the pangs of sadness resonate as you realize that a little part of you died too.
And that you are also going to die someday - just as she did.
My mom shared with me later that each family member was allowed some time alone with her right after she passed. Once everyone had finished, they all lined both sides of the walkway as she left her home for the last time.
Gina loved our Lord. She had a standing room only funeral in her lovely small town church. Her blue casket laden with white flowers sat at the front so everyone who came up for communion could touch the glossy sides. Nieces sung her favorite song. Nephews were pallbearers. My dad gave the eulogy. We processed to the cemetery and stood and stared into the open ground that would soon welcome her body.
We hung onto each other and wept.
For it was not her loss - but ours.
And just when you think time has stopped - it starts up again.
So we went to the hall where she once had her wedding reception
and ate the food her friends prepared for us
and shared what we had left of her -
May you sing with the all the choirs of angels
and rest in peace with Jesus Aunt Gina!
We loved you always
and always will.