My head is full of conversations and anecdotes from yesterday's beautiful memorial for aunt Maggie at an orchard she loved just a few minutes from her home in Putney, Vermont. Ever the preserver, she spent countless hours there, harvesting plums, blueberries and apples. Even when she was sick and tired quickly, you just could not keep her down for long, she'd get up off the couch and go out to harvest quinces and then turn them into a thick, golden membrillo or defy her doctors' orders and go yank weeds out of the dirt though she did wear her mask sometimes.
We've still got several jars of bright, Maggie-made jams and salsas on our pantry shelves because as her younger sister, Joanne said yesterday, "She never let you leave her house without taking something she'd made." In our case, this was usually raspberry jam, maple syrup, tomato sauce, salsa or some of her amazing maple truck cookies. I like having this way of hanging on to her a little longer and am loathe to use them up. I did the same thing after my dad died almost five years ago and actually still have a few venison steaks from a deer he'd killed wrapped in butcher paper and labeled in black sharpie in his characteristic blocky architect draftsman's handwriting in the chest freezer. Have you done this? Please tell me I'm not the only one.
But back to Maggie. It was quite a gathering - about 400 people from all walks of her life came together to remember her and celebrate her too-short but packed-full-of-living life. The event was held in the huge apple picking barn - a fitting spot since she spent so much time working her butt off to cultivate and harvest the Earth's bounty - one of her favorite activities.
In honor of her lifelong love of pie, people brought scores of 'em and the tables in the back were laden with slices both sweet and savory which people ate throughout the gathering. Big, beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers from local gardens added splashes of color in the dark barn. Pictures of Maggie throughout her life had been blown up and were hung from clotheslines strung at the sides of the little stage that was set up for the speakers and the musicians. There was a slideshow of pictures that I could not really watch because I'm too shy to sob openly in public and I also did not want to freak my kids out.
I kept thinking how great it would be if she was there. Though I do believe that she was there, of course. I'm sure she was hovering over it all, laughing at the stories people shared, giving imperceptible kisses and hugs and pinching people's butts.
My husband and I each missed roughly half of the event because our little guys can't hack sitting still and quiet for very long so we took turns taking them outside to be loud and messy and to go pee repeatedly. When we were all inside, Will laughed loudly every time people laughed at something funny someone shared in an effort to participate, adding a slightly discordant laugh track that I tried and failed not to be embarassed by.
I came away from the parts I did hear with some wonderful stories about this little firecracker of a woman we all loved. She burned so brightly and touched so many lives - the patients she cared for as a nurse practitioner, the artists and craftspeople she worked with, the people she made hundreds of gallons of maple syrup with, the farmers she pitched in to help, the family she loved. She was such a special being.
Despite being funny and wild and energetic and no-nonsense, Maggie struggled mightily throughout her life with the need to please everyone around her - at a great cost to herself. Rather ironically, her last year - the worst year of her life on a physical level and truly hellish by anyone's standards, was the best year of her life because she felt that she was finally being herself and living her own truth for the very first time in her life.
The quote on the back of the program was what Maggie came to call her new motto the last year of her life. I think it's pretty powerful.
Here's a little excerpt from the short but wonderful speech my mom-in-law, Liz, Maggie's older sister, gave yesterday and you can read the rest here if you're curious,
"I think Maggie wants all of us to stop trying so hard to be perfect little humans, and instead just to be ALIVE. To relax, and to trust ourselves and to trust LIFE. When I communicate with Maggie, this is what I think she is telling me: don’t contract your energy out of fear of what others want from you. Don’t dim your light; don’t live small. Just BE who you are; tell the truth; and then go out into this beautiful world and love and live with all your heart."
My parents were not religious and I've never felt even the teeny tiniest bit drawn to organized religion of any kind so I don't have much of a framework for answering the big questions in life - things like "What happens when we die?" and "Why are we here?"
I'm still very much in the process of figuring out what I believe and cobbling together some sort of faith. After my dad died unexpectedly about five years ago, I was forced to think about it quite a bit more seriously. Here's the Cliff's notes version of my fledgling spiritual belief system - a work in progress that will undoubtedly shift as a result of future experiences and influences:
- I think that although our bodies are clearly mortal, our spirits are infinite and that birth and death are merely our spirits passing between planes/realms/worlds/who-knows-exactly-what-they-are.
- I think we keep being reborn until we've somehow graduated though I have no idea what we graduate to...
- I think we go around and around with the same cast of characters (some people call this your "soul group") in various configurations - someone might be your mom in one life and your best friend or maybe even your worst enemy in another.
- I think that we probably have a hand in planning our lifetimes before we are born and that we arrrive with a primary lesson we need to learn as well as a set of roles we need to play / agreements we need to honor with the the people who will play major parts in our lives.
- I think we leave (die) once we've completed those agreements and learned (or failed to learn - I'm sure there's plenty of failure) our lesson.
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