By Nicole Cater
Oh, so many family gatherings… so many wonderful times… so much drama! I like to joke that my family puts the “fun” in dysfunctional; but we don’t. We’re a good family, probably better adjusted than most. There is so much love, support, and humor; I feel blessed to have my family.
But the gathering I’m talking about is bittersweet. My aunt and godmother Loretta Schoessel was a remarkable woman. Smart, thoughtful, generous, caring, and had a near-wicked sense of humor. She lived in the small town of Hastings, Michigan for decades. Her daughter, my cousin Susan, was not only family, but a dear friend. I often made the trip over long weekends to see my family in Michigan. Aunt Loretta, familiar with my problems, never failed to slip some small present into my luggage that I would find upon my return. Her giggle at funny situations was a balm to the soul. She would do anything to help anyone. She was that woman who you lament they just don’t make anymore.
Sadly, Aunt Loretta lost her second battle with breast cancer in August 2011. We knew she was leaving us; it was only a matter of time. We wished her peace; she deserved it. All the same, she was such a valuable member of our family, how could we let her go? In the end, it was she who comforted us.
In my last phone call with her, as I fought back tears, all she wanted to talk about was that she wanted me to be okay; she wanted to make sure I would take care of myself. She knew she was going to her ultimate reward. It was the fate of those she loved that worried her, never her own.
And then she was gone. Mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, teacher, volunteer, and leader: How could she leave us? Knowing it is going to happen doesn’t make it any easier. Hastings is a small town. It mourned her loss with her family. She had the love of every single person who encountered her. Her passing would be treated with love and honor, of a type I’ve never seen before and am unlikely to see again.
The community spared nothing to accommodate her grieving family. At the time, there was one hotel with three rooms in the entire town. This was hardly enough to accommodate sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. The community opened its doors. Houses were made available to us from local residents. Upon my arrival with my mother, we found ourselves sharing a beautiful, peaceful lake house with my Uncle Ron, Aunt Carolyn, and cousins, Matt, Katie, and Mark. Close quarters have never bothered our family, and it was healing for us to be together. Although our bonds are close, we are still spread out over the Midwest and Northeast and the time together allowed us not only to catch up, but share our favorite memories of “Growing up Schoessel” and laugh over the wonderful sense of humor Loretta possessed.
You expect grandparents to pass away in your lifetime. But aunts and uncles are like your parents. It’s impossible to think of them leaving us. I grieved not only for my loss, but the hole in the hearts of my cousins, Tim, Scott, and Susan, along with their children. None of us would ever be the same after this loss. As much as we knew it was inevitable, it was also inconceivable.
I am ashamed to say I didn’t know how to help my dear cousins with this. Susan, my cousin by blood, friend by choice, sister by heart, was heartbroken and I didn’t know what to do. I had my mom. Suddenly, she didn’t have hers. Through the long grueling hours of visitation, I begged her husband and hometown friends to take care of her. Our family turned out strong children. But were any of us strong enough for this? I didn’t know. How were any of us supposed to live in a world without Loretta? All I could say was I love you. It didn’t feel like enough.
I was overwhelmed by the out-pouring of love. The funeral was held in a school auditorium. As the family entered last, trailing the casket, we were awestruck by this amazingly large group of people. It seemed the whole town had come to bid Loretta farewell. Businesses had closed. My uncle’s past and present swim team members showed up en masse. The rumor was that more than 500 had attended. And the service was equally beautiful. Loretta was memorialized by her children, brother, and pastor. It was two hours of gut-wrenching emotion. Tears were inevitable.
The family was given a police escort to the gravesite. Such an amazing show of respect and love that I doubt many see, and I’m sure I will never experience again. The small, intimate graveside service was followed by a luncheon so large it filled the school cafeteria. Words cannot express the comfort that the family felt knowing how many people loved us and cared enough about Loretta to stop their own lives for a day and care for her family.
As lunch wound down, the family was alerted to one final mission. Loretta had left a set of instructions for us. We would honor them to a tee. Family and closest friends descended upon my cousin, Tim’s house. “Share butter pecan ice cream cones with each other” was Loretta’s final instruction. Her love for butter pecan was legendary. We lined up to receive our cones as this family gathering finally took on a celebratory air. This, these few precious hours all together, was Loretta’s final wish for us: Come together, remember her, and be happy. For she was in heaven, she had her reward. It was time for us to celebrate that, to be comforted by that fact and to remember what is most important in this life, the love that surrounds us when family comes together. Loretta also had her priorities straight. She knew what we needed most to deal with her passing. We needed each other.
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!