Saturday, January 9, 2016

After the Ceremony

When I posted yesterday, I said that I hoped to circle back to the ceremony. But then, last night, my 19-year-old daughter, Tori, showed me what she'd written. I think she's said it all, and she agreed to let me share it here.

It's Thursday evening. I'm sitting on the floor at my aunt's feet. She sighs. "This really sucks," she says. "Yes" is all I can say in return. 

What else do you say to someone whose son is in the wooden box on the mantle?

By now you've probably heard all about Jesse, the premature baby boy who popped into our lives one December and hung out just long enough to change everything forever. But unlike the stories you've heard, this one isn't really about Jesse. It's about me. It's about his moms. It's about his aunts and uncles and close friends he never got to know. It's about family. Real family.

It's 9 o'clock on Thursday morning and I'm watching my aunt pace around the church. The memorial service doesn't start until 11. There's a table with framed pictures of Jesse and his moms, a guest book is laid out in front of it. The church is being filled with flowers. At 10, other family members start to arrive. They all follow the same strange pattern, entering the room, beginning to cry, hugging the nearest person and then, somehow, coming away laughing. We sit down in a full church at 11 on a Thursday morning. No one is surprised except my aunt.

While my aunts sit together, wrapped in their son's blanket, I look around. I shouldn't be surprised to see that most of their "family" has no actual blood relation to them. After all, I have no blood relation to them. But that doesn't matter now. I am standing behind them in a church pew watching them cry, holding another of their nieces in my arms. Where else would I be?

"What happened at the service?" my aunt keeps asking later. She was too overwhelmed to know what happened during most of it. We tell her the most simple things, the core things that get filed away and for some reason never forgotten. People spoke, sang songs. Your niece talked the whole time. Your mother cried. Everyone compiles their scattered memories and start to form a whole picture. It's full of little things. Specific details that stand out to certain people and not others become mixed with perceptions. The conversations vary. Stories are shared about the baby, about hospital stays, about lives. Jokes about kids, jokes between siblings and old friends. There's chocolate cake and costume changes. 

Before I leave for the night, I sit down next to one of my aunts. As she wraps her arms around me and kisses my cheek, I hear my boyfriend's words in my head. "They want to be your family," he said, "I see it. You just have to let them."

As I looked around at the crowd of people, I saw proof of that. They all came from different places, different worlds, backgrounds, struggles, and yet, they were all here to mourn a child they'd never even known. All because of my aunts. Because of what they had built. Because they let us in.

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