Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the Midst of Joy We Are in Sorrow

I'm tired today -- drained by a whirlwind 36-hour trip to Iowa for the visitation and funeral services of my Uncle Kenny, who passed away on Sunday after a long goodbye. Kenny had Parkinson's disease, and it slowly enervated his strength and abilities year after year. He was in a coma for some time before his death, and as my mom said, "The stubborn ol' Swede just wouldn't give it up." His death was met with sorrow at losing a part of our family, but also a sense of relief that someone who so richly loved his life while he enjoyed it would no longer be a prisoner to a disease that changed him into someone he was never meant to be.

But, as is somewhat traditional in our family, this visitation was full of laughter through tears. All of Kenny's children were able to make it home from the far corners of the country in time to say goodbye to their father, so the shock of his passing was mitigated by their opportunity to make their farewells. We got to see Myron and his family, who live in Washington state, and Sandra and her husband Jeff, who make their home in Colorado. A stready stream of friends, neighbors, and family made their way through a receiving line where hugs and memories were exchanged. My cousins faithfully arrived throughout the course of the visitation, and we made our way through the queue, ending with the iron strength of my Aunt Tootie (who is, without doubt, one of people I most admire in this world), then retired to a side room where we caught up on one another's lives -- it had, of course, been a long time since our annual Thanksgiving reunion. We laughed about life, and fondly remembered Kenny as a slide show of pictures from his life flashed across a screen.

Afterwards, my parents, my brother and his wife, and my cousin Mary and family all went out for pizza at a local restaurant. Paul, Rich, my dad, my crazy, wonderful cousins (Jon and Lee), and their dad (Tom) sat at one end of the table and listened to my father, Wally the Great Storyteller, pass on joke after joke. Mary, Mom, my brother's wife (Toni), and I oohed and aahed over Mary's new grandbaby brag book (this amazing, incredible, wonderful grandbaby is my new soon-to-be godson, Braden). It was a loud, boisterous, almost raucous evening where we laughed and ate and made plans to travel to Virginia in a month for Braden's baptism. Jon, Paul, and Lee have decided that they don't care about seeing Washington's historical sites -- they're more interested in trying out the DC night life. We laughed and told stories and enjoyed every minute of our time together, even knowing that the next day, we would meet at the church I grew up in to say goodbye to our uncle.

But that's just part of what makes my family so important to me -- we take any opportunity to love each other. We gather together in sickness and in health, in sadness and in joy. That's what makes us family -- we find joy even in our sorrow, and we live knowing that our family is what gives us roots to hold us firm and branches to allow us to touch all the wonderful things in life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's an Honor Just to be Nominated...

So the phone rang last Sunday afternoon. It was my cousin's daughter, Kay, who recently had her first baby, an adorable little guy named Braden. She lives in Ashburn, Virginia, which is pretty much Washington D.C. I couldn't figure out why she was calling me, of all people, and on a Sunday afternoon to boot. I thought perhaps she was calling at the urging of Mary, my cousin, who asked me to order a book for the upcoming little tyke way last Thanksgiving, which I agreed and them promptly forgot to do. I was all set to tell her that I had, in fact, ordered the book from Amazon and that it was on its way, when she said, "The reason I was calling is because Brett and I were wondering if you and Paul would be godparents for Braden."

Me? A godmother?

Perhaps second to my life's sadness at not being a mother is another, softer layer of quiet grief at not being a godmother. My godmother, Eileen, was such an integral part of my life that I mourn her every day, and remember her with joy every time I walk past my china cabinet, which is part of her legacy to me. The other part is my fierce determination to fight for the underdog and absolute refusal to accept bullying of those who are different physically or mentally. Eileen spent her entire life fighting palsy, a physical disability that made the simplest acts like brushing her teeth or drinking a cup of coffee a challenge that would be insurmountable to most of us. She lived her life with quiet grace and didn't complain about what she had to work harder to do. Her soul was one of the purest I have ever known, and her death was marked with a rainbow that I know to my bones was sent by God to welcome her into a home in which she would never again have to worry about the limitations of her physical self. My godmother was so important to me that she sat next to my mother at my wedding, and Paul and I presented her with a rose during the ceremony, along with my mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother-in-law.

When my nephew was born and my husband was asked to be his godfather, I cried a little inside. Okay, I cried buckets. I was angry and hurt that I wasn't perceived as "good enough" to be considered as his godmother, whether it be because I'm not Catholic (they are) or because she chose her best friend from childhood for the honor. It's still a wound that goes deep enough that I have never talked about it with my sister-in-law. I'm sure she never thought of it as excluding me, even though that's how I perceived it. Pushing my completely-non-active-in-the-Church-recovering-Catholic husband to be involved with his godson's religious life is really one of those character-building activities for me. There's a small grain of sand in my gut that irritates every time someone brings up the fact that Paul is Jordan's godfather, and sandpaper that wears away when they ask why I'm not his godmother, too. I try to be tactful, mature, and graceful when I answer, but I'm sure that "I just wasn't good enough" has slipped through my lips before my mental filter could catch it.

But now, a woman who I had a very small part in raising (Kay was my first babysitting project, and I still remember several Halloweens of wearing my boots and jeans to look like a cowgirl so I could take her trick-or-treating around the streets of Walcott when she was little) and her husband (a man I didn't meet until their wedding) have asked me to accept the responsibility of being a part of their child's life. Honestly, I never even expected to know this child other than through pictures and stories. The fact that we are two full generations apart, and that he lives an entire country away, would pretty much preclude the idea of him "hanging out" with me for the weekend.

But I'm going to be his godmother. I'm going to stand at an altar and pledge to assist his parents in raising him as a child of God. What an amazing gift. I'm humbled, and grateful to be thought worthy of the honor.