It’s time to take your place.
Everyone has been waiting on you. Your entire family is here including your children, cousins you haven’t seen in years and that crazy aunt with the gaudy makeup. They are sitting next to your mail lady, your next door neighbor, your childhood friends. Many of them don’t know one another, but they know you.
You are the one who makes the special holiday stuffing. You are the one who gives them a pep talk when they are down. When it’s their birthday, you are the first to call.
But now, you are gone.
You can’t tell your partner of 20 years how much you love them. You can’t hug your niece, who is your Goddaughter, you can’t make amends with your brother after years of silence.
All you can do is watch them mourn.
I sat through a similar scene a few Saturdays ago in the dead of winter at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Lorain, Ohio. It was a funeral mass for my mom’s step sister Debbie, and my Uncle Ron and I were there to represent our family. My grandpa John, Uncle Ron’s father and my mom’s brother, was Debbie’s step father. Debbie’s mom Carol was the grandma I never had.
The mass started and “Ave Maria” was sung from the rafters by someone I imagined to be an old lady who volunteers her time to sing for weekday funeral masses. She doesn’t know the deceased person, but she sings anyway to help silence the unknown family’s pain for two minutes.
There we sat staring at a box of cremated ashes and a small framed picture of Debbie, whose laugh you’d love to hear again. My memory drifts back to my grandpa John’s funeral mass 35 years ago in this same church. I think of my aunt Lorraine, my mom and Uncle Ron’s sister, who was also mourned here. She taught me how to dress fancy because, “sometimes you have to suffer for fashion,” as she’d say.
I’m wearing a pair of diamond earrings aunt Lorraine gave me when I visited her for the last time in hospice and a diamond wedding band my mom Sharon passed on to me. The ring includes diamonds from their mother Mary’s wedding ring.
These pieces of jewelry give me strength. I embrace the ring and then the earrings to remind me of the generations of relatives whose souls are surrounding us.
At the end of the mass, a server waves incense over Debbie’s remains and the sweet smell of “I don’t know what” fills the church. The non-Catholic guy in front of me begins to choke. That’s when the priest stops what he’s doing to explain to the non-Catholics in the group why Catholics use incense, and I laugh because I know Debbie is laughing too.
We get into our cars, go through red lights and creep to the cemetery, car after car. When we pull into Calvary, Uncle Ron points out the exact location under a tree where he plans to be buried. That’s just what I need. It’s close to my mom and sister Amy, who died at age 40.
We walk along with family and friends through a half foot of snow to stand with Debbie for the last time. Everyone is staring at her remains again as the priest recites final prayers and holy water is sprinkled. Uncle Ron and I hug Debbie’s sons Jason, Jerry and niece Beth. We say goodbye not knowing the next time we will meet.
Life processes on as Uncle Ron and I leave the cemetery and drive to downtown Lorain for lunch. As we savor a warm bowl of soup and fried brussel sprouts, I glance at my Uncle Ron, my Godfather, and think of the passionate legacy of love he is giving me. It was passed on to him by his family, and now I’ll pass it on to my family including my five nieces.
Every day we start fresh with the opportunity to build on the legacy of love we will leave behind. It doesn’t cost a thing, never loses its value and it’s diversified. It can be freely given to our partners, mail lady, family and friends.
When it’s time to take your place and they are staring, what kind of legacy will they remember you for? From generation to generation, will it be a legacy of hate, greed, pride or love?
Before you go, fix it whatever it is. Fix the brokenness, fix the heartache, make the call, tell that person you love them. Love yourself. You don’t need to spend money. Just spend time. Take action, don’t just talk about things. Do things.
Do something before it’s time to take your place.