My feelings have been pretty tender this weekend, but when they played “Families Can Be Together Forever” as the rest hymn in sacrament today, I straight-up lost it.
This weekend, my sister-in-law and I hosted a little maker’s market in Kaysville.
Also this weekend, my dad and his siblings gathered in Lake Tahoe to scatter my Aunt Donece’s ashes in the place she loved most, among the people she loved most. My mama stayed behind to support me in market prep and to take care of Gracie so Brittany could be in a best friend’s wedding in Bear Lake this weekend, because that’s the kind of selfless call mamas make.
During the market, my thoughts were a lot on my family, especially my Aunt Donece’s family. My cousin Meg is one of my very best friends. No matter how long we go without seeing each other, it’s always the same when we do. We were inseparable growing up and infamously naughty together. Like one time we watched a Reading Rainbow (can I get an AMEN on Reading Rainbow) on how food is made or something and felt it was a really good idea to try to make our own syrup. But since no bowls were big enough for the syrup we were about to make, we just dumped water and sugar and anything else we could find that was sticky right onto the kitchen floor. (WHOOPS.) Aunt Donece had to tackle that one with us, since she watched me during the week while my mama finished nursing school.
So during the market, when I had a spare minute, I was watching for word from my dad or a post from Meg to see how things had gone in letting her go. My heart was definitely with them. Meg posted the beautiful picture at the beginning of this post with the following caption:
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
Or you can smile because she lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
Or you can be full of the love that you have shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she is gone,
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Mom, although I don’t understand and it’s not easy I am learning how to go on. I know you’ll be with me every step of the way. I will love you always and cherish you forever!”
It was pretty hard to maintain composure as I read, and the loss of my aunt hit me like a ton of bricks. I ached for my cousin, and I ached for my aunt’s presence. This was the first major event in my life done without her, and I felt it. I thought back to our wedding and the way she helped at every turn. I remember her help at showers, with hours of reception set-up, and I will remember forever how after the hours and hours of reception set-up, when everyone else had gone home, she followed my mom to our house and slipped silently in the front door, joined my mom in the kitchen, and wordlessly picked up a knife and stood by her side working on food prep late into the night.
I know, had she been here, that she would have been involved in the whole process wherever she saw needs. That she would have helped make thank you’s for vendors, organize spreadsheets, pack snacks, share the event, supply coolers and fans and some kind of life-changing Amazon gadget. She would wordlessly offer support with her presence because that’s what she did and that’s who she is. She has done that for every project and event my entire life, and as a result made herself indispensable to those she loved. She is indispensable to me and my family, and we are only five out of hundreds.
However, as I re-read Meg’s caption, trying to blink tears away and bring myself back to where I was, sitting in the July heat at a busy market, the words took root in my heart. “You can remember her and only that she is gone, or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
So I did that. I opened my eyes, and I looked around, smiling at my family – at my sisters-in-law enthusiastically manning the photo booth and involving customers in the event, at my sisters-in-law running their booths, tackling different situations as they came up, chatting with vendors and customers. I looked at my mother-in-law, complimenting vendors, running to get food and drinks for family members, keeping everyone hydrated, helping with set-up and clean up. I saw my father-in-law, locking and unlocking his personal business as a home base for supplies, asking how each booth was doing, providing a location, and more. I saw brothers-in-law juggle tents, supplies, set-up and take-down. I saw nieces and nephews eagerly helping with heavy lifting, despite high temperatures and tiny arms.
I thought of my mom at home, who made thank yous for vendors, who got a babysitter to come support me for an hour with her presence, who has spent every spare hour the past few weeks walking around rubber-banding flyers to doorknobs in different neighborhoods, of my dad in Lake Tahoe who has done the same. I thought of my sister in Bear Lake, who has loaded her baby in the car and driven all around to local businesses, hanging posters. I looked with gratitude at the constant stream of texts from my sister in California, eagerly invested hour by hour even from states away.
I thought of friends who drove for an hour to help for half an hour, friends who stayed after everything was set up just to BE there for us, friends who offered words of love and positivity, and friends who came to support everyone involved. I thought of cousins who came and said hello, neighbors and friends, and it was very humbling.
Each person did more than I can list or articulate. And I’ve seen my husband do more than there is probably room to say.
I smiled bigger, absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude (and not much more composed than when I first read it, tbh) and read the words again through teary eyes. “You can remember her, and only that she is gone, or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.”
The singular and cohesive memory I have of my Aunt Donece is love. Love through service and presence and help. And although my heart was on a boat in Lake Tahoe, looking around at all the charity and service around us this weekend, I very much felt her memory living on where I was. I felt, and feel, more admiration and gratitude for the people in my life than I really know how to express.
And I very much felt that as long as there is love and kindness and goodness – the feeling of family – biological or not, that the spirit of who Donece is, and her memory, are forever. And that, more than any sale made or event success or whatever, is what I hope to remember about this weekend. I am so, so grateful for the people who love as she does, or to get down to it, who love as Jesus Christ loves. That kind of love is forever. I am surrounded by so many good people who give it. And that is forever, too.