Letter From New York 4/16/12

Or, as it seems to me…

A little over a week ago, my beloved cousin Virginia passed away, rather suddenly, and much too quickly for all of us. She wasn’t eating much, which concerned all of us and caused us to think the end might be near but not so near. One moment she was with us; the next she was not.

Virginia was ninety when she passed away. Older than I by much, old enough to have been my parent and so it was always hard to think of her as cousin – I thought of her more as an aunt due to the age difference. Regardless of the relational nuances, Virginia was always present in my life and was a glue that held a family together. We gathered around her, to both honor her and enjoy her company.

I was asked to eulogize her; I did. I think it went well.

Last week’s Time Magazine’s lead article was about “Rethinking Heaven.” It posits that heaven is not just the celestial plane but also those things we do for each other, the kindnesses, the generosities, the graciousness and love we exhibit to one another, the concern we have for one another. Virginia manifested all of that; she was a bit of heaven on earth and she is now in heaven, surrounded by all those she loved and who loved her.

The ancient Egyptians had a phrase: To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

Virginia will continue to live in all of us who knew her, in our memories and we will speak of her but I exhorted my cousins, family and friends to let her also live through us, through following her example of kindness, graciousness, love and good works – to let her continue to live through us, to let us help heaven be on earth in her good name.

Hers was a life well lived.

I went from her funeral to Philadelphia, where I attended the Religious Communicators Conference. Odyssey was up for and won a number of awards at the ceremonies for both the DeRose Hinkhouse and Wilbur Awards. But I knew I was tired and had trouble getting through them. Virginia’s passing took a toll on me, physically and emotionally and it was only today that I have felt near my old energy level back, after a good night’s sleep in the little apartment in New York.

She was the last of her generation in our family and her passing brought to a close one more chapter in the book of Tombers. Now it is my generation that is at the forefront, we are next in line, in the natural way of things, to pass and our passing will close yet another chapter in the book.

Like all families we have been wrapped in our family stories and our family myths, all twined together to make a history. But that story now runs thin and I doubt the stories bind to my cousins as they did to the generation before us or to us. I doubt the story of my immigrant great-grandfather and his stern wife is much retold these days.

All the folks today are a long way from the stories that once bound us and that, too, is the way of families. With Virginia gone there is no one left who can identify the strangers in the photo albums or retell the stories of the interesting relatives who inhabit those albums.

It is the way of time. It’s the way it is. But it has filled me with a bit of sadness which is, mostly, the sense of loss of an extraordinary ordinary woman who lived an ordinary, extraordinary life, who lived long and well, who prospered and shared, who was generous with her gift of love, who had a shy warm smile and who everyday did a good deed, a natural act that came from an uncommon generosity of spirit.

Rest well, Virginia. May you inspire the rest of us.

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