2023 began with an ending, and we found ourselves heading back east for my father’s funeral in January. After almost four years, my first trip since the pandemic was a sad one. Coming out of such a long confinement, the journey we have made countless times seemed longer and my relatives looked older, the kids bigger. We all had to get to know each other again, and I for one, am not the same person I was in 2019. The family dynamics had shifted of course, and we struggled to gain some kind of footing while wading through the mementos of a long life.
Tables were piled high with photo albums full of forgotten family, dusty yearbooks of a life before mine, and innumerable slides that couldn’t be viewed unless you held those tiny squares up to the light. Fresh young faces lit by flash bulbs smiled at me with such bright hopes for the future, yet to be dulled by disappointments and setbacks, mind-numbing responsibilities and grinding routines.
As expected there were no end-of-life plans to fall back on so we the living fumbled through the arrangements as best we could, trying to honor and remember while finding a final resting place. The quest took me back to the cemetery where the families of both my parents are gathered, grandparents and great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. It’s also close to the little apartment over my grandfather’s garage where my parents began their life together and where I started mine. As strange as the recent past seemed to me now after the pandemic, the distant past still felt the same as I listened to my uncle recount stories of the places he’d lived and mischief he’d caused while we drove the narrow roads of my early childhood, through horse country that had magically transformed into suburban estates somewhere along the way.
The tribute to a life fully lived ended with the sudden crack of a gun salute on a bitter-cold winter afternoon and then we found ourselves gathered around the familiar table, telling the old stories and recalling special moments both present and past. As much as I had dreaded a reunion, the vital connections made to the living on this visit resulted in great healing, which ironically (or not) is the word I’ve chosen for this year. May this kind of heart healing continue as we all navigate a changed new world.