When I was 5 years old my Grandmother's older sister Lena passed away. We are a small and relatively close-knit family and even at that young age I had spent a great deal of time with her. I have a couple very clear memories of this period. I don't remember my reaction to her passing, which I am sure seemed more like she was away in a far distant land than the reality of her death. She was just there one day, cooking me gnocchi's and the next gone.
My mother, always trying to do everything "the right way" thought it best to expose me for the first time to the reality of life and death. She brought me to the wake (now this is one vivid
memory) and had me touch her as she lay in the coffin. I remember her being very cold and that she didn't look anything like the Aunt Lena I knew and loved. But of my earliest memories, it is this one which sticks out in the clearest of detail. In fairness to my mother it actually served her purpose, I was never after that point upset or hesitant to attend a wake or funeral. I just had no anxieties about them afterward. That brings me to Friday...
My Brother-In-Law's father passed away last week. His wake was this past Friday. I decided to bring my older son with me. Well, I asked him first, and since he knew the deceased very well (from nearly every major family holiday and birthday) and also is relatively close to my sister's husband (his son) he wanted to go. So after work Friday I picked him up and we set out for the Funeral Home. This man was very well connected in local politics, and had a huge family. It was a two hour line outside the home and one hour line inside. We got in line at 4:30 and finally reached the casket and receiving line at 7:45. It was very cold and my hands were beginning to get numb by the time we got inside. I have never seen such an outpouring of support. He was very well liked needless to say and this was certainly evident by the number of mourners in attendance.
My son got choked up upon reaching the casket, kneeled, said a prayer and greeted both my (step) sister and her husband with a handshake and hug. They were touched that he came, given his young age, and while he was at a loss for words, he hugged everyone in the receiving line and expressed his sympathy with one repeated phrase "I am so sorry for your loss". I was so proud of him, he's becoming a little man.
Afterward, while walking to the car my son told me how glad he was that he went. This was especially meaningful as he had plans with friends for 7:00 that night and given the unanticipated 3 hour line he wasn't going to get home until 8:30.