Today I attended the funeral of Mrs. Eleanor Yank, a woman I have known for nearly 3 decades. The Yank and Fenelon families have been close friends for nearly 50 years. They are so close that two of the Yank sisters married two of the Fenelon brothers and the families do so many things together that sometimes it’s hard to tell who belongs to whom. Having married into the Fenelon family, I became part of that beautiful menagerie.
As I was sitting in the pew gazing at the coffin resting in the center aisle of the church, I began to think about all of the memories I have of Mrs. Yank, and I came to the realization that I have nearly as many memories of Mr. and Mrs. Yank as I do of my own father, who died when I was just 15 years old. I have always been grateful for the way the Yanks have opened their home and arms to me; they helped to replace the emptiness inside of me from the absence of my own parents. Their warm and gentle welcome was as soothing as the trickle of a cool mountain stream on a hot summer day.
Suddenly a deep ache came up inside me and a groaning of the heart that is more desperate than I think I have ever felt before; it was nearly uncontainable. I wondered what Dad might be like today if he were still alive and what we would talk about if we could have a conversation together. I wondered if we would sit down at the kitchen table with a steaming cup of coffee and talk about his orchard, politics, science, or my writing. I wondered what he would think of my new book, what he would say to me about it, and if he would be proud of what I have done with my talents. I wanted to see his face again; hear his voice once more…
When we got home from the funeral, I got a call from our son, Matt, in Iraq. It was such an excellent birthday gift! It made me so happy to be his mother and to be part of this fantastic extended family.
Just after I hung up from my conversation with Matt, the phone rang again. It was my Aunt Mary. Mary is my dad’s youngest sister, and my godmother. She told me that during that morning an unusually vivid memory swept over her mind and kept relentlessly circling around her brain. It was the memory of my father sitting in his old International Harvester wagon, parked in her driveway. He had come to borrow some baby furniture for the new baby that he and my mom were expecting soon. He was telling my aunt how very much they were looking forward to the birth of the new baby and how badly they had wanted this child. They had had a hard time healing from the death of the previous child, a girl they named Rita, who was stillborn. My aunt said that my dad talked about the new baby with such amazing reverence; she had never heard him talk like that before. His tone and sentiment had deeply impressed her. The new baby he was talking about was me. Aunt Mary had no idea what brought that memory into her head today but it stayed with her.
Later in the day she saw an obituary for a nun, a Sr. Doris of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi who is the biological sister of the best man at my dad and mom’s wedding. The obituary said that the best man, Claude, is still living and so are his wife and children. Aunt Mary knows that I long to learn as much as I can about my dad’s life and so she decided to give me a call. She thought that perhaps I might want to attend the funeral and meet my dad’s best man. Perhaps he could tell me some things about my dad since he spent time in the Navy with him.
When Aunt Mary called my brother to get my phone number, he reminded her that today is my birthday. Then it clicked for her and she realized that much more was at work here besides a few interesting coincidences!
I was so happy to hear from Aunt Mary. She is the last surviving sibling of my dad’s family and I’m sad to say that we don’t keep in touch often enough. When she told me all that had occurred to her during the day I marveled because it so directly coincided with what had been occurring to me throughout the day. When I learned that the nun’s funeral was to take place just a mile from my home, I too realized that more was at work here besides a few interesting coincidences!
Toward the end of the conversation Aunt Mary referred to my new book and expressed her admiration for my writing talents. She told me about how she enjoyed the book and made observations and remarks about some of the stories in it. She mentioned that it would be great to write more books like it and include some of the stories from my own family and childhood. She told me I should collect all of the memories that I can and record them for future use.
Then she told me something that sent a chill down my spine. She told me that she is absolutely sure that my dad is truly pleased with me, with who I am and what I’ve accomplished, that he admires my work and is so proud of me for what I have accomplished with my writing.
I was both stunned and touched, for the very thing for which I had been so longing during Mass this morning came to me through a phone line via my godmother’s voice. Somehow I just knew that dad had heard my prayer and urged his sister to help him answer it.
After I hung up the phone, I sat down on my chair and chuckled. Then, I marveled. And then I cried.