And that is why you are here. Yes, my father's brother died a few weeks ago and I traveled to Connecticut to be with the Wilcox side of my family. Josiah's statement is most revealing in that he had never met any of the Wilcoxes, outside of our nuclear family. With my father dying at age 34 and with me growing up without him, we were in touch with the Wilcoxes as children. But, once the matriarch died, it was harder and harder to keep family gatherings a part of our regular routine. Add to that we have many cousins, we all moved to different parts of the country, got married and incorporated those families into our lives, and we added kids. ..Well, I bet you know the drill. It is hard to co-ordinate large families.
So, Josiah's innocent discovery was a real one. I have a mother who is connected to all you people in some way. And, yes, the time with the Wilcoxes was a painful gift of remembering my heritage, and tracing the life of my beloved father, and mourning the loss of my uncle with his devoted wife and children. In those short days, Josiah discovered he had a Grandfather Michael, whom he has never met. He finally put together that Grandfather Michael was Bibi's late husband. It was a time of recounting stories about my uncle and hearing in those stories echoes of my father and who he was.
I knew being a part of the funeral and burial would be important for me as a priest and a niece and as a goddaughter--a gift in some ways to the Wilcox family and a gift in some ways for my father. But I had no idea the degree to which the grief of 40 years would burst forth out of my eyes and my throat as we watched my aunt bend down on her knee to put the ashes of her husband in the ground. Just five feet away sat my father's grave. Forty years of absence, forty years of longing, forty years of normalcy, too. After all, grief for someone whose face you can only conjure with the help of a photograph, whose voice you never knew, but you were told sounded just like Uncle Stephen's, a story you could cling to, but never a story you could never own. This was the kind of grief that spilled out that day as I absconded a Kleenex from my cousin.
On top of that I learned that there was a palpable grief that my uncle carried with him his whole life. He missed his little brother. In the last days of his life, he reported seeing his brother again and felt delighted to think of them being reunited. After all these years, he still treasured a worn photograph of my father dressed up in his clericals, which my uncle stored on his dresser.
As a priest, I must admit I remain gnostic about what happens at the time of death. I don't know how Michael and Stephen will be reunited. I don't know how their ailments were healed. I don't know what they can or will share with each other. But, I do know that the communion of saints is that beautiful community in which there is no more pain or sighing. And, I do know that even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. God's love was manifest in the tale of these two brothers, Michael and Stephen. Their lives and witnesses are carried on in all of us--seven children and nineteen grandchildren for Stephen and two children and twelve grandchildren for Michael.
Yes, Josiah learned an important thing that day: His mom is a Wilcox and she came from a father whose name was Michael, and he was Bibi's husband. And all of that is gift, even though that gift was not without pain. And someday in this great communion of saints, beyond our understanding and our logic, Josiah will greet his grandfather when he enters into the fullness of eternal life and he might say, "You know, my mom is a Wilcox."