have only so much power. There comes a time, perhaps, when mere writing mortals
such as myself reach the capacity of that power. Some events are simply too
enormous to be contained in a description with just words. My aunt's passing
is such an event.
Three days removed from her memorial service, I'm struggling to put together
decent sentences. There is so much emotion... and not just sad or happy or
something simple like that. To describe feelings that fall into a neat category
would be easy. It's the fact that from minute to minute, I feel many emotions...
how do you describe that?
Jessie & I flew to Lansing Thursday
afternoon. By a sheer stroke of luck, we left Franklin mere hours before
a "suspicious package" gummed up the already slow TSA security check point
and delayed some flights. Once we reached Michigan, we also managed to dodge
the hoopla surrounding Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit to Lansing.
All in all, it was a good travel day.
After meeting up with my mom, we ran some errands & checked into the
hotel before my brother's flight finally arrived from Oakdale (it was late
-- he didn't share our luck). We ate a late dinner and Jessie & I returned
to the hotel for the night.
As early as Tuesday afternoon, I had written down some memories in case I
had the chance to speak at the memorial service. Shortly after, my mother
asked me to represent the family and give remarks at the service. My notes
were totally random and were only five or six paragraphs in length. But,
late Thursday night, I pulled them out & laid down on the bed with my
notebook to start writing.
My aunt once commented that writing
never came as easy to her as it did for me. Obviously, she made that statement
without ever having seen my write. With me, it's a long and drawn out process.
It's rarely pretty or easy.
I'd already started & scratched through three or four rough drafts when
it hit me that I needed more than my random notes and the flood of ideas
rolling through my head. I needed my entry from June
I headed out to the rent-a-computer in the hotel lobby, inserted my dollar
bill for a five minute session and loaded Deadline Pressure. I hit the print
key before I noticed there was no paper. I begged the desk clerk for a few
sheets, returned and tried again. In the meantime, another dollar was required
to keep things flowing.
As the printer came to life, it started spitting out sheets that weren't
Deadline Pressure. It was some sort of order form for a guy living in Canada.
It seems that he'd hit the print key a dozen or so times and then abandoned
his post. As there was no print monitor to cancel the jobs, I kept feeding
the machine dollars so that I'd have something to do while I printed off
what seemed like War & Peace.
After 25 or 30 minutes (and every picture of George Washington gone from
my wallet), the queue was clear and I tried again. This time, the machine
printed something else completely unrelated to what I wanted it to print.
I finally returned to the counter and asked the clerk to print the Web site
off of his computer. He obliged and I was finally able to return to the
With entry in hand, the vision of what
I wanted to say started to take shape. At first, it appeared in my head.
Honestly, I could see it clearly. My brain knew exactly how things needed
to be put into place. Yet, communication between the brain and my writing
hand was sluggish. I did my part to support the forestry and paper industry
before my speech finally took shape.
Sometime between 3 & 4 a.m., I woke Jessie up so she could give me feedback.
She read it and edited it. She read it again and edited it some more. I read
it aloud and she edited it even more. I read it a second time and, for the
hell of it, she did just a bit more tweaking. With less than six hours until
the 10 a.m. service, I finally felt that I had words worthy of my aunt.
I am a decent public speaker. I've always
enjoyed being in front of a crowd, but I seem to enjoy it more and have grown
more comfortable doing so as I've grown older. The exception to those rules
was Friday's memorial service.
My aunt was a well-respected woman. As her many friends and former
colleagues filed into the chapel, the knot in the my stomach grew larger.
When the time came for me to speak, I felt as though I had a large boulder
lodged in below my ribcage.
I'd been emotionally solid all week, but I teetered on the edge as the minister
introduced me to speak. There were also a couple of times during my five
minutes at the podium where I had to take a deep breath, pause and maintain
composure. In the end, my humor was appropriate and well-received and my
aunt's memory was honored. Although Friday was about my aunt, I'll admit
to being proud of myself for pulling everything off without incident.
My aunt was very low key. She wasn't
one to jump into the spot light. In fact, she didn't want any sort of service
at all. My mom decided to go against that wish simply because there were
so many people who wanted an organized way to remember my aunt's life.
The speakers that followed me shared great memories of my aunt and our collective
remarks painted a solid picture of who she was. Through the service and through
talking with the people in attendance, I heard a number of stories about
my aunt that were new to me. I also saw first hand the impact that she had
on practically everyone around her -- from university administration to her
As one speaker pointed out, we'll all have to answer to my aunt when we get
to heaven for having the service. Yet, if she knows how great it made us
feel to share our stories of her with each other, I doubt that she'll object
too much. Sure, she was low key... but she was always appreciative. And
appreciative is what I remain, even during this time of jumbled emotion,
for being blessed with her in my life.