My family might have been a bit weird, but my dad, his two sisters, and all their related kin got together at my grandma's every single Christmas as I was growing up. We spent Christmas Eves together and got together on Christmas Day. We spent Thanksgivings together and a lot of other holidays.
We were a close bunch.
It never exactly changed. To this day Christmas Eve finds us at my grandma's house eating and opening a few gifts. Christmas Days have changed. As the kids have gotten married, we tend to go to the in-laws for Christmas Day. But Christmas Eve remains remarkably the same.
This Christmas we had planned to stay home in Georgia. Last Christmas my father-in-law passed away on Dec. 27th. It was a hard Christmas last year, so we wanted to spend a quiet Christmas at home. But plans change. My aunt was diagnosed with cancer in early December and my dad told me it might be her last Christmas. I knew we had to make the trip back home.
We spent a week at Christmas in WV with family. I spent most of my time staying with my grandma (who is 89 and also in ill health) while other family members traveled back and forth to Charlottesville, VA to be with my aunt. She was in the hospital for a few days before traveling back home and dying in hospice care on Jan. 3rd. Her funeral was last Tuesday and my son and I spent last week with family while we all said our goodbyes to my aunt.
She was an amazing woman. She was the Deputy Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Labor at the time of her death. She was always very work oriented, being promoted to a leadership position at every job she ever had in a short period of time. She was focused and committed. She was a hard worker and many people will remember her as someone who didn't suffer fools gladly.
But she was something else too. Underneath the fire, she was very caring. She would give anything to help a family member or friend. She was too generous for her own good and never really understood how much she was loved.
On a cold, rainy day last Tuesday in Beckley, WV, around 200 people gathered to bid my aunt farewell. Many of those mourners made the trek to the little cemetary in Sophia to say goodbye as she was buried. Family, friends, and co-workers all shared some time to talk about what a great person my aunt was.
Her death was unexpected. We thought something could be done to buy her more time. I think she deserved a better ending, but, as Christians, we leave all of that in the hands of our Lord. I know she's in a happier, pain-free place. That knowledge makes her death easier to take, but in no way makes it easy.
Bye, Fran. I love you.