I went to my aunt’s funeral. It was a beautiful funeral held in a small old church, on a hill, looking over the sea. I could see Vancouver across the bay. The day began wet and misty. By mid-morning the sun had burned off most of the cloud, although thin wisps still lingered in the mountains, snagged by the peaks. My twin brother and his fiancée spend most of the morning preparing sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres. My eldest sister and brother-in-law pack plastic spoons, paper napkins and plates in boxes. We rehearse and go over our plans for the day. A nervous sadness hangs over us. We try to shake it off. My brother-in-law’s usual laugh is reeled in this morning. My sister seems tight, drawn up to full strength, her sadness lurks inside her. We talk about life, we remember our childhood. Although time has stepped between us, we are familiar. We are all still the same people, older, with grey streaks in our hair. When I look at them, I see the brothers who filled my childhood with laughter and the sister who, at times, seemed more like a mother with her love for us. We are all more thoughtful today. Our window looks out over North Vancouver and the mountain ridge beyond. Steamy white threads of mist rise out of the mountainside, unwinding, gently tugged by the rising sun. We wait for my brother to arrive, wondering if he will be late. But he is on time when things have meaning. We wrestle with ourselves, wanting to place meaning on the emptiness we feel. We notice the bright blue sky as we leave the condo with packed boxes under our arms. The sun is warm, although the air holds a coolness. We arrive at the tiny old church just as a dance class ends. Young women file out and we rush in to set up the tables and chairs. The one-room church has a square piano in the corner. Bare wooden dance rails run up both sides of the church. Above, huge beams and rafters are filled with cobwebs. A large, stained-glass window occupies the front wall and shines blue, green and red patches of sunlight on the bare wooden floor. Although it is noon, it still feels like morning. Fresh, cool, mountain air blows through the doors. Guests arrive. We stand around, drinks in hand. Everyone sits and the eulogy begins. We remember my aunt Liz. The treasures of shells, rocks and stories she brought back from her trips to exotic, far-away lands. The pleasure she took in teaching and the struggles she went through. Tears fill my sister’s eyes as she speaks; she lets her sorrow out. My brother-in-law steps up beside her, there for her, but unobtrusive. We listen to Highland music. We celebrate the life of Elizabeth O’Connor. We are glad we were part of it. She will live on in us. Old women, with gentle smiles and soft condolences, pick at the food. My brothers and I drink most of the wine. The sun dances in coloured patches on the floor. Long shadows signal a change in the day. Morning has slipped to late afternoon and we must pack up and be out of the small church before another dance class rushes in. We drop off the left-over food at the condo and head to a trail that my aunt Liz loved to hike. The wet forest reminds us of illustrations from the storybooks of our childhood. Green moss covers the rocks, logs and bark on the trees. The wet wood is filled with magic and fairies play, just out of sight. Moss hangs from limbs and huge pines block out the sky. Enchantment and beauty surround us. We stop at a small lake. The forest is reflected on its still surface. We circle around another lake and come to an opening in the forest. In the distance, a huge snow-covered mountain reflects bright sunlight into our eyes. A stone landmark tells of a plane wreck decades ago that was just recently discovered. We think about how precarious life is and marvel that we ever made it through childhood. The sun is low, the day is ending. We go back to the condo and sit and talk about our lives, our dreams and our futures. We don’t bother to turn on any lights. My brother-in-law lies on the floor at my sister’s feet. My twin and his fiancée curl up on the couch. We watch as the mountains turn from green to dark grey, with glints of pink at their peaks where the last rays of sunlight touch. Lone birds fly, black specks high in the empty sky. I mention the moment we are in. I love the peace. My brothers make fun of me. I tell them off. Some things don’t change, we are the same, but older. We are family, together again for this moment, in our love. On the plane home I think about my own death. I don’t put much faith in life after death. I think we only get one chance at life. I hope part of me lives on in the things I have managed to do during my life. There are so many things I’d want to say to my family and friends before I die. I’d want to tell my husband that I love him more and more every minute. That even though we fight sometimes, I love his determination and tenacity. That I haven’t felt the warmth, security and peace that we have in our home since I was a child living under my parents’ love. What we’ve got isn’t simply the newlywed kind of love, it feels more like something we’re both creating and keeping vital. Like a flower we’re watering and caring for that will live for as long as we do. At times I feel in awe of his strength and desire to learn, and his curiosity in the world around him. I love to watch him think; he stores away each idea. I love the way he researches things that interest his friends and family. The way he studies up on Grade 10 math in order to help his nephew. It’s hard to think of him with another woman. But if I were gone, I wouldn’t want him to be alone. I think that we learn so much from deep, loving relationships and I’d want him to keep himself open to love. I’d want him to keep growing, to keep being curious and alive. I’d want him to splash through the puddles in a summer thunderstorm; to climb a tree on a windy day and sing, “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…” at the top of his lungs. I’d also want him to dive into the lake at dawn on September 21 (no matter how cold) and let out a scream like we did on the morning of our wedding. I’d want him to know how much I love him and to know that when he misses me I’ll be in the wind whispering in the pines, in the butterfly that lands on the dock, in the sound of the rain on the roof. There is so much I want to say to my family and friends. Some I miss and wish they were living closer, but I love that we can pick up a conversation that we’ve left off months ago and continue without a pause. I’d want to say goodbye to each and celebrate what great people they are. But that’s another day. Today I am healthy and alive. I’m not passing up the opportunity to focus on what is important and I’m awfully glad I went to my aunt’s funeral in that tiny church overlooking the sea.


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