Finding and recognizing your blessings

And this isn’t even all of us.

And this isn’t even all of us.

I walked over and knelt beside his casket.

I find this tradition odd, but coming from a big family, familiar. You kneel in front of an open casket to pay your final respects. I find it impossible to really think or pray in those moments – looking over at my loved one who doesn’t really look like themselves any more – words often escape me.

I’d planned my trip to Cleveland in April, not long after burying my dad’s oldest brother. I wanted to spend time with my dad’s sister and her husband and all of my cousins in Ohio. As I see mortality set in to the generation ahead of me, I find myself desperate to squeeze in more time with them – fearful each time I leave that this was the last time I’d see them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it in time to visit with my Uncle John, as he passed before I arrived in Cleveland.

And so I was here for a funeral instead of a visit.

My Uncle John was a big man with a booming voice who filled a room with his presence. Sheila’s strongest memory of him is when he threw a chicken wing at her from across the room at my brother’s rehearsal dinner.

Don’t worry, I said. It means he likes you.

And he did.

He loved me for who I was. All of my family does. And for that, I’ll always be grateful beyond words.

There has been a lot of loss for me and my family in the past year or so. This is the fifth family member I’ve lost in the past year and a half, and it’s the third time since October that my dad’s family has gathered for a funeral.

But even so, the word I keep coming back to this morning is blessed.

I am blessed with family I consider to be friends.

On Friday, after my Uncle’s funeral, we gathered for a day long party at my cousins. We laughed. We played games. We swam. We told stories. Later in the evening my dad and his remaining siblings played the guitar and sang before giving it up to my brother and cousin who did the same.

My niece snuggled next to me as we sat in front of the fire and I looked around, determined to soak it all in - the smell of the fire, the sounds of my cousin family - the warm summer night.

My first cousins are not distant people to me. I mean sure, if I counted all of my cousins – my dad had over 100 first cousins and my mom almost as many – I don’t even know all of them. But my first cousins were my first friends. They were my early baby sitters. They snuck me my first beers and egged me to play the guitar at a family reunion years ago.

They came to my wedding.

They all love me for who I am.

I have said before that if there is a cost to aging, then loss is the price of admission. And it becomes harder and harder to watch my family grow smaller.

But during the funeral, as we once again mourned my uncle to the words of “On Eagles Wings” I looked around at the next generations – mine and beyond – and thought about how blessed I am.

Loss is the toughest when you’ve loved with the entirety of your heart.

So I settle in with the loss – with the shrinking of a family – and try to think of the good fortune I have. That I have the blessing of having loved, and being so completely loved, by so many people.