A little over a year ago, Joe's nephew had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and it was the first time in almost five years I had seen anybody from his family. I was almost as nervous about seeing them as I was about the wake itself (I do not like going to them!), but in the end it turned out alright. Since this time it was Joe's dad who died, I felt I needed to be there for the whole time, which meant three wake sessions and a funeral. As I would have expected, the whole thing was a mix of emotions for me.
It was nice to see many of the people in Joe's family, and I never really became sad until yesterday, the day of the funeral. Sometimes the most unexpected things bring out the most unexpected reactions and one little gesture at the mass did me in. I need to explain a little bit first before I continue...
You see, Joe is one of 9 children of James and Dorothy E. The family en masse is pretty close, and all of the nieces, nephews, in-laws, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, are always getting together, and always having a good time, and for a long time, I was part of those get togethers. Over the years I've gotten to know them all like my own family, and many of them are near and dear to my heart.
Of course there are people in his family that were never really nice to me, and my interactions with them at the wake were like they always were...a little ignorance, unfriendliness, and whatever. But then there are those in Joe's family who loved, check that...still love, me as one of their own. It was these family members who made my time at the service partially a pleasant experience.
Three kids in particular I had been very close with over the years. Little Richie, Lisa and Nicole are the children of Joe's sister Maryann and her husband (Big) Richie. I've known them the longest and the best, and it was really great to see them and their children, most of whom were tykes when I left the family. One child in particular, Skylar, I've known since she was born, and she and I were always pretty close. She's going into 9th grade this year and it was so nice to see her as a mini-adult. It was Skylar's uncle and little cousin that stirred up the sadness in me...
During the funeral mass yesterday, I sat alone towards the back of the church, and looked on as the family took that solemn walk down the center aisle behind the deceased and toward the pews in the front. I watched each face carefully and thoughtfully, knowing that the next time I'd get to see any of them will probably and unfortunately be the next funeral.
One group of people walking together was Little Richie, his wife Jen and their children. As they walked by, Richie leaned over to his little 7 year-ish-old son Alexander and pointed to me. I hadn't seen Alexander since he was about 2. Look Alex, there's Uncle John. Alex looked up at me, smiled, and gave a little wave. I smiled back. Yeah, I am still Uncle John! It was the first and only time I had cried all week.
For the remainder of the service, I sat there in a different mindset, mostly looking at all of the people in Joe's family from my vantage point behind them. I remembered and relived parties and incidences shared with them that I had long since forgotten about. Family parties and get togethers, holidays and vacations, weddings, and yes, funerals. I was once a part of this great big, loving family, but I don't belong with them anymore. They're a part of Brian's (Joe's new partner) family now, not mine.
So that last hour spent with Joe's family was spent in displacement and sentimentality. I miss them and I'm going to keep on missing them. Who knows, maybe I'll stay in touch with a sister here, or a a niece or nephew there, but of course it's not the same as it used to be. That's okay, though. Life turns out the way it turns out, and at least I've got memories and family members I still get to see at the occasional wake. Just no more weddings.