Nobody likes funerals. But they have changed from the days of my youth. While wakes and funerals still are a time of grieving, the emphasis of late has been more of a celebration … a celebration of life.
I attended just a gathering this week in New Jersey as family and friends said goodbye to 94 year old Grace Siccardi, my uncle’s wife for the past 26 years. There were some tears, but only a few. It was more of a time to celebrate Grace’s life and, more important, her elevation to the realm of saints. As I visited her casket, I asked her to look up those who went before, just to say Hi.
After the services at the Church of the Epiphany and Madonna Cemetery, family and friends gathered to swap stories and show what love is all about. I sat with my Uncle Gerry — who will turn 99 next month and still is sharp as a tack — and my cousins Judy, Louise and Jerry and their families. We shared our lives on Virginia Avenue — my grandmother and her three sons shared a quadplex until the state bought the house to create an entrance to Route 80 off Madison Avenue — and how our lives evolved. Mom, Dad and I moved to Totowa; Uncle Gerry’s family moved to Sandy Hill; and Uncle Frank’s family migrated to East Paterson (now Elmwood Park). Grandma bought a home on East 23rd Street, a few blocks away, where we always seemed to gather on Sundays and holidays. Even though we “scattered,” we remained close and remain so today, although “life” has a way of stretching days to weeks, months and years. That’s why I didn’t blink when I received the news of Grace’s death. I had to attend the funeral in Cliffside Park, NJ, despite the 436 mile trip. Judy — my age — cut a California vacation short to pick up my uncle in Phoenix (where he lived) and settle him in at her home in Connecticut. Louise and family also cut a vacation short and drove up from Pennsylvania. Jerry and Michelle played host and hostess at their home in New Jersey.
Over the years, it has been these post-funeral gatherings where family and love come together. It’s a shame we only see each other at weddings and funerals, but it’s a celebration of just how far the family web stretches. It was a time to remember those who went before us with pride and smiles. We heard new stories. We shared old stories. We reconnected … albeit a little older, a little more fragile, a little grayer.
Undoubtedly, we’ll gather for another funeral … er, celebration of life. May it be exactly that!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Peace begins with a smile. — Mother Teresa