A couple of months ago my ancient aunt Edna passed away. I miss her and I think about her a lot, but it wasn't sad. If anything, it was a relief for both her and our family. She was 95 and for the past five years, my aunt made a rapid decline towards human vegetable status. When she was coherent enough to know who you were, she'd openly talk about how she wanted to die, specifically to be with her husband who passed away eight years prior. But this isn't a story about death. It's a story about a funeral. There is nothing like a funeral in the small town South. It's easy to think of Virginia as being quite a long ways from the Great American South, but travel just three hours outside of Richmond and watch how they put someone into the ground. It's hard to deny that it's an entirely different world when you're surrounded by people with names Eula and Noreen (pronounced No-Reen) who sport big hats and oscillate between harmonizing the funeral dirges and wondering when it became acceptable for their grandsons to marry Mexican women.
My aunt was a Primitive Baptist. Her funeral was conducted by two Elders. The service was like listening to a religious version of Mad Libs with my aunt's name shoved in the blanks. Maybe that's just how Primitive Baptists roll, but there was nothing personal about it. None of her friends or family spoke. The Elders barely mentioned anything about who she was as a person. In fact, my aunt didn't really have to be there at all, but she was, hanging out her casket looking better than she has in the past decade and far better than many of the live ones who attended her funeral. I'm not sure if it was the embalming or the make up or simply the act of finally escaping years of declining health but whatever force it was, my aunt looked wholly content and while the Elders were ranting about Jesus and sin, I imagined her sitting next to the man himself, having a quiet chuckle at the expense of the living below.
She was buried in a family plot on a hill, which sounds quite scenic until you realize that it happens to be located across a highway from a tractor dealership and I definitely saw a couple purchase a new John Deere as they put my aunt into the ground. My grandmother was there. My aunt was her last surviving sibling out of six and of anyone in our family, my grandmother is the one impacted the most. More than seeing the body or even saying goodbye, what impacted me the most was watching my grandmother do that thing that people do when they're devastated beyond the point of feeling and are just going through the motions of life. She didn't cry or speak much, but there was a very visible frailty and as she walked from her sister's fresh grave to her brother's grave to her husband's grave and eventually to her own empty plot my heart broke into 8,000 jagged pieces, none of which were comforted by the successful tractor sale across the street.
When I think about my aunt now, I like to think that she's around for all of the best parts of my life she missed in the nursing home. I think about her when I'm singing awful Meat Loaf songs at the top of my lungs in the shower. I think about her when I go to see matinee movies alone on rainy days. I think about her when I call my grandmother on Sundays to hear her intimately discuss the lives of characters from The Bold and the Beautiful as if they're real people. And every time I smile at one of life's subtlely charming moments, I think to myself, "Can I get a high five Edna? This is what makes everything else worthwhile."