Me, kissing my 100 year-old grandmother, Jeanette Birch
View from the air, just leaving the Charlottetown Airport
I was in Prince Edward Island over the July long weekend, and I saw a lot of things. I saw things that I thought were interesting. I saw things I never thought I'd see. And I saw things I didn't want to see.
I was in PEI for a funeral. It was the third funeral in four months for my mom's side of the family. Uncle Allan passed away earlier in the year, followed by the untimely death of my cousin Gary, and then my cousin Nancy died only six weeks after that. I had missed the first two funerals. I was going to make it for Nancy's, come hell or high water. I needed to be with my family.
I am at a point in my life where I'm remembering all those things my grandmother said. And she said a lot of things that didn't make sense to me when I was younger. I suppose that's the way it goes. As I boarded the flight to Charlottetown, the voice in my head was hers:
"Oh, you'll find as you get older that you'll only see your cousins at weddings and funerals."
I remember seeing my cousins every summer and thinking that I was going to live forever. I think that phrase (lodged in my brain circa 1970) was her way of saying that I was going to be shocked at how time would fly. And I am shocked.
When did everyone get so old?
When did I get so old?
At the funeral home, hugs were followed by tears and smiles. God, it was good to see everyone. It did my soul a world of good. In just a short while, I felt I was back at the annual Henderson family picnic again. All the warmth of being part of a clan flooded back.
Over the weekend, I met Gary's partner Bernadette and immediately felt a connection. She was very philosophical about Gary's death. "He's not gone, you know," she said. "I feel he's right here, beside me." I believed her. Gary was very stubborn. If he told Bernadette he wasn't going, then he isn't gone. She told me they are going to scatter his ashes, but haven't decided where.
I feel that Nancy is gone, however. She died unexpectedly, but I suspect she was bone tired, deep in her soul. She struggled with mental illness her whole life, which polarized her family. For a few, I know her death was a relief.
Before I left, I made sure to visit and kiss my 100 year-old grandmother, Jeanette Birch. She told me that she felt it was a sin not to use a God-given talent and was very proud that I was using mine. She also said a lot of other really nice things that she hadn't told me before, which I felt was a gift.
I left Prince Edward Island stronger than when I arrived. In one very packed, very emotional weekend, I heard words of love from my grandmother. I heard words of encouragement from Bernadette. I picked up just where I left off with my cousins Janice, Gordie, Kathy, and Marilyn (four of my 30 first cousins). My aunts Anne and Bertha took me to the shore to collect pottery shards and beach glass. We stopped at the graveyard to say hello to my grandfather, Laurie Birch, who died six years ago. I ate mussels, saw a biker convention, watched fireworks, and wondered about the price of cottages (astronomical).
I left with a different feeling about funerals. It felt good to go to Nancy's funeral. I drank in all the love and gave love. With my clan, I celebrated her life. Because Gary and Uncle Allan were still fresh in our minds, we were celebrating their lives, too. I reconnected, laughed, cried, hugged, and patted.
I felt whole again.