The past 10 days have included four deaths and funerals affecting my immediate and extended family, from my daughter-in-law's great-uncle to my cousin, to my wife's aunt to my uncle.
My mother's side of our family was large. She grew up with four brothers and three sisters in a rural southern Illinois area. Usually, when a family member died, a Wayne City, Ill., funeral home handled the arrangements. As a child, I particularly recall visitation at the funeral home in the small farming community 25 miles or so from my own hometown.
Most of us kids knew a majority of the mourners because a large part of the family still lived in the area. We became reacquainted with the ones we didn't see as regularly as our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Usually, a couple of cousins would take me with them to the drugstore a few doors away to enjoy a fountain cherry cola.
As I sat with my two young grandsons during the funeral for my late mother-in-law's only sibling, Helen Mattox, last week, I thought about them and what their remembrances might be of such occasions. They had just returned from West Virginia for the funeral of their mother's great-uncle, a visit that allowed the boys to meet several relatives they did not know.
The boys are 6 and 9 (almost 7 and 10, they explained more than once when asked about their ages). I observed a number of relatives, who live far enough away that they have rarely been around the boys, approach Chase and Caleb and visit with them before and after the service in Marion, Ill.
These relatives reminded them of the importance of family if only by showing an interest in my grandsons and their little sister, Carly. They were genuinely affirmed.
I'm not sure how much they picked up from the words spoken by Aunt Helen's son Aaron about what his mother held dear — faith, family and friends. I do know that such lessons may sound a bit lofty as life principles and values to youngsters like these. But they heard how Aunt Helen lived out these values.
The beautiful thing about a funeral eulogy is that usually such principles are better understood when we understand these are what drove a person to acts of devotion, love of relatives and genuine friendships. Part of personal discovery for each of us is recognizing the influence of significant others on our own lives.
I remember as a boy hearing enough at countless funerals to remind me that in many ways I wanted to grow up to become more like the person being described.
These days, families certainly are more scattered than in previous generations. We lose track of the activities — even the struggles — of family members. I hope my grandkids grow up ever mindful that they are little parts of something bigger like an extended family.
Personally, these days, I feel the need to do a better job of staying connected, staying involved and staying interested in those who in recent years I only seem to see at funerals.