2020 is now book-ended with funerals for me.
I try to avoid funerals, but my elders are passing and I feel honor bound to show up in some way. This month, I attended a service via Zoom for the first time. Honestly, a remote memorial doesn’t feel quite real.
My paternal grandmother died in December 2012. The following spring, her surviving four sisters hosted a memorial for her in Chicago. I was the only member of my grandmother’s line to show up, though she had three surviving children, many grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. My dad preceded her in death, as did my brother. My sister had been hard to connect with after our brother’s funeral. I had been living in New York City, isolated from family, so the thought of connecting with my grandmothers sisters was ambrosia for me. They knew who I was and I was familiar with one or two, but I didn’t really grow up around them. So, I was eager to sit and listen to their stories.
In April 2013, Great-Aunt Juanita hosted her living sisters and their descendants in honor of their recently lost sister, Jurl, my grandma, near Chicago. I traveled with my camera and captured some great candid shots, family groupings and intimate portraits. The sisters also brought along photos of their gatherings through the years. I’ve photographed a few funerals and gatherings in honor of loved ones over the years. As morbid as the subject may sound, the images are full of joy and love.
In 2015, I returned to Chicago for a conference and was happily able to connect with three of my great aunts at Great-Aunt Faye’s home in South Chicago.
In November 2019, I was compelled to attend my Great-Aunt Cherrie’s funeral in Gary, Indiana. She was the eldest sibling of thirteen Stuart children born in a small town near Little Rock, Arkansas.
On December 1, 2020, Great-Aunt Faye left us for the light on the other side. Her daughter reached out to ask if I had any photos of her from Aunt Cherrie’s funeral last year. I found quite of few of her from last year and my prior visits in 2013 and 2015. She was a light and a joy.