I recently spent a weekend in St. Augustine, Florida for a celebration of life ceremony for a dear aunt that passed due to Alzheimer.
Alzheimer has a commanding presence in the story of my dad’s family.
In a family of six siblings, two of my aunts have passed on as a result of Alzheimer, two are currently progressing through stages of it (my dad being one of them) and the other two (both 65+) don’t show any indication of having it.
Yet, this weekend was a reminder that it’s not the only narrative, let alone the most important one.
For two days, we gathered as family – aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends – to celebrate the life of my aunt. For many of us it had been nearly a decade since we last gathered. Yet, we picked up where we last left off. Time had not diminished our bonds.
One evening, we gathered at the beach to spread the ashes of my aunt into the ocean. We told stories and reflected on the impact she had made. We waded into the ocean, said our goodbyes and spread her ashes into the waves. When we had finished, the remaining siblings (my dad, aunt and uncle) all got together to take a picture.
As they posed, I felt overcome by grief. It was a moment together after many years apart. Yet, it was incomplete.
The absence of both my aunts was felt and seen. It was beautiful to see my dad and his remaining siblings and heartbreaking to know that these moments wouldn’t last forever. I couldn’t help but wonder who would be missing from the picture the next time we all gathered. Would there even be a next time?
In that moment, I was reminded of how life can be a paradox. It is both the beautiful certainty of the present and a hopeful uncertainty for the future.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the lesson is an important one all the same; life is not just one thing – it is joy and grief, it is significant and insignificant, it is backward-looking and ever-forward.
Wherever life may find you at this moment, here’s hoping you can find the beauty in it despite the challenges it brings.