Two weeks after Aunt Agnes Anne Ellert passed away, we gathered in Waterloo to celebrate this woman’s life.
Certainly we entered the formal service with heavy hearts that ached with loss. Aggie never married and had no children of her own, but she was a cherished mother in all the ways that really count.
One thing that struck me as I sat listening to my daughter, Dianna, deliver the eulogy for her Godmother, was that Aggie not only loved life, but she lived it as fully as she could.
I always find it instructive to listen to how others experienced a loved one. The stories are poignant, and sometimes funny, but very often insightful.
My memory of this great woman was greatly enhanced by Dianna’s anecdotes and the meaning she gleaned from them. I hope Aggie enjoyed the eulogy as much as the rest of us did.
A week earlier, our granddaughter Lexi asked me if I’ve ever cried. She and my wife had just finished having a good cry together over the loss of Aggie, and she noticed I wasn’t crying.
I told her that sometimes I cried. She looked intently into my eyes to judge whether I was being truthful with her. I guess I wasn’t very convincing, so Anne assured her that she had seen me cry.
During the ceremony Lexi was seated next to me. As her mother delivered the eulogy my eyes began glistening with tears and Lexi was watching. She snuggled up close to me and rubbed my arm, “It’s ok, Papa.”
Aggie was cremated a couple of days after her death, so her embalmed body was not on display at the funeral home. We had a nice picture of her sitting on a table beside the wooden box that held her ashes, surrounded by several pink floral arrangements.
On a large TV screen, at the other end of the room, was a very engaging slide show of her life’s photos accompanied by the song Don’t Give Up You are Loved, by Josh Grobin.
Then, as we entered the funeral home’s chapel for the Memorial Service, we were greeted by dear Aggie’s smiling face beaming down upon us from a large screen on the room’s front wall.
Erb & Good Funeral Home did a superb job, and we are so grateful!
The point of the previous description is that this setting made it easier for all of us to divert our attention away from our grief, and remember Aggie’s wonderful life.
When we are able to react joyfully to the fond memories of her life, we are beginning to heal. Aggie knew this kind of grief very well. She was the second child out of five, but she buried her parents and her other four siblings. Aggie struggled with Alzheimer’s the last few years of her life, and I believe the disease compounded the grief of her losses.
Her youngest sister, Mae, died last June, and that death left Aggie as the last of her family to survive. I was so moved every time Aggie asked me if Mae was dead. When I told her that she was, I saw the pain in her eyes – as if she was being informed for the first time. This would happen a few times each week when Anne and I visited her.
Many people, both family and friends, commended Anne and I for the amount of time we gave to Aggie each week. It played havoc with our routines, our normal activities, and our energy levels. But it was no hardship! I enjoyed those visits with this incredible woman who touched so many lives in her 100 years.
I just feel privileged to have had Aggie in my life. From conversations Anne and I have had with Aggie’s caregivers at The Westmount Long Term Care Home, they too, felt privileged each day of the two years Aggie spent with them. At the service, one lady who worked for Aggie at Electrohome over 38 years ago, told me that Aggie was the best boss she ever had – before or since. Seven women who worked for Aggie attended that service.
I think I’m rambling again. I firmly believe that our society should change the rituals of death and burial so that the surviving family members can say goodbye while truly experiencing, in that moment, the joy they found being with that person when they were alive. How can anyone do that when confronted with a body laid out in a casket? But that is our tradition. It has been done that way for many, many years.
On the day Aggie died, the nurse at The Westmount asked us if we wanted to pick out an outfit for Aggie to wear in the casket. It was assumed that we would follow the tradition. I found no joy in those traditional funerals. I think we’d all be better off emotionally if that practice stopped.
Both Aggie and her younger sister Mae (Anne’s mother) made it clear to Anne and I, as their executors, that on the day of their funeral, the rest of us should gather at the restaurant, where they often treated us, to have a final dinner “on them”. We followed their wishes both times – less than a year apart.
This year, the restaurant had a private room with a big screen TV and a laptop connected so we could play the wonderful DVD produced by the funeral home while we dined together. We played Mae’s DVD from last year as well. As these two mothers smiled down at us from the screen we conversed quietly among ourselves until that gave way to good-natured kidding and much needed laughter. Under their unwavering smiles, we began to heal as we had dinner “on Aggie”.
I called her Boss,
And I loved her strong;
For in her eyes
I could do no wrong.
Aggie… are you still my girl?
John, I’ll always be your girl.