As a child, I grew up saying goodbye often. My dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. By the time I was 10, I had moved 7 times. I learned at an early age how to say goodbye.
At least those goodbyes, as a child, had the potential to not be forever goodbyes. There was always the hope of maintaining a friendship (although that only happened once). As I got older, I kept moving and got quite good at saying goodbye to friends as I moved onto a new challenge in a new place. The goodbyes never brought me down because I knew I would stay in contact with some people and meet new people where I went next.
In the past 9 months, though, I have had to say goodbye to two very wonderful people whom I will never see again. On the day after Christmas, following a long battle with lung cancer, death took my Aunt Nancy. Then, on August 10, my Uncle George, my Aunt Nancy’s husband of 50 years, lost his battle with Parkinson’s.
My Aunt Nancy, my mom’s older sister, and my Uncle George were both wonderful people! They had a great spirit, values, and love for family. I remember spending a good part of my childhood (after we settled in the St. Louis area when I was 10) at my aunt and uncle’s house. My mom and her sister were always such great friends. The house was always full, with my three older cousins and one younger one constantly busy. In the summer, we would swim in their metal pool in the backyard when we visited. That house was full of laughter and noise. I loved it!
One thing that always stood out about my aunt was how direct she was. A family trait. She told you how she saw it. It took a while to get used to it for some, but for me, it always felt like my mom. If we were at her house, my aunt never hesitated in directing me to do something to help out in the house, like helping to dry dishes. When I got older and would visit St. Louis, I stayed with my aunt and uncle quite often. I have other aunts and uncles that would have allowed me stay with them, but none of them brought the memories of childhood as strongly into focus. And, when homesick for my mom, my aunt was often the perfect remedy.
My aunt and uncle also had great faith. When I decided to convert to Catholicism, I had a hard time deciding who to ask to be my godparent. I only needed one. I could have gone with my sponsor in RCIA, a young student at the university I worked at. But, that ultimately didn’t feel right. After much thought and reflection, I decided asking my Aunt Nancy to be my godmother would be perfect. She was a convert herself. Like me, she had been raised Southern Baptist. She converted for marriage to my uncle in November 1962. I was converting because I wanted to be Catholic (for a whole host of reasons). The idea of having another convert and family member as my sponsor was too appealing to pass up. I felt asking my uncle to be my godfather would make it all the more perfect. It was a blessing when they agreed and came to my baptism on April 29, 2000.
My uncle, particularly, took his role as my godfather seriously. Despite my being in my late 20s when I converted, he would ask about my path in faith. He would make sure I was attending mass and asked how things were going in my faith. I loved that about him!
I can only imagine how tough the loss of both parents has been for my cousins, when I know how hard it is to lose an aunt and uncle so close together. My cousins, though, showed such strength and love this past week at my uncle’s visitation and funeral. They embodied their parents with their humility, humor, and value for family.
On Wednesday, my Uncle George was laid to rest next to my Aunt Nancy. They will get to spend eternity together. While I am sad that I had to say goodbye, I know they are likely very happy now, doing the jitterbug up in heaven. They made a positive impact on so many people. I’m just thankful that I was blessed to be a part of both their lives.