This eulogy was delivered by Michael Vrtis at the funeral of Rosaleen Veras.
What can I say nice about Aunt Rosaleen? Many, many things. First of all, she brought up some mighty fine weather with her from Texas. We had three inches of freshly fallen snow on Monday, and yesterday I saw cherry trees and magnolia trees in blossom. And for that, we're all pretty grateful. And, as my Aunt Joanne on my Dad's side of the family wrote in a condolence note I received on Thursday, "Anyone in their 90s we can all rest assured has earned a non-stop journey through the gates of heaven." Then she added, "If not, then we're ALL in big trouble!"
Aunt Rosaleen had a wonderful curse. And I don't mean a curse that she bore. I mean a curse that she used on others. Frequently. Everyone should have a curse. Something to use when irritated or frustrated or 'wronged'. Hers was perfect. It was short. Only 9 words long. 27 letters. It was usable in a wide variety of situations. It made the 'cursee' pause and think a little and maybe smile. It was not vulgar, nor was it deep. It was 'folksy' - natural and memorable and wise and richly humorous. And most importantly, it was tailored to her. Nor one else could use this curse as effectively as she wielded it.
Her curse? (And I hope that her children had it engraved on her tombstone, otherwise I'll have to get my chalk out and write it down myself.) It was "JUST WAIT TILL YOU GET TO BE MY AGE!"
Aunt Rosaleen could use this phrase so well because no one else even came CLOSE to her age! She was indisputably "the oldest of the old." And it was a neat curse. Maybe one of us had laughed at how short she was. (And I'm not mentioning names, Rosal. But some of us are 'going to hell!') Well, Aunt Rosaleen would just laugh and say, "JUST WAIT TILL YOU GET TO BE MY AGE!" and we would all know that somwhere down the line, some youngster would be laughing at us for some reason. Or maybe she was frustrated at her awareness of her own deteriorating abilities as one of us called, "C''mon Aunt Rosaleen, hurry up." Well, then, "JUST WAIT TILL YOU GET TO BE MY AGE!" was a delightfully wise and funny way of telling us without bitterness that going old isn't easy. Maybe sometimes she just wanted to tell us what she seemed to be so aware of - that LIVING means CHANGING. And that we have little control over those changes. So in some ways, "JUST WAIT TILL YOU GET TO BE MY AGE!" was her way of telling us without lecturing that change is inevitable. What is within our power is how we deal with change.
Aunt Rosaleen's life wasn't boring, nor was it easy. And the world around her wasn't serene and peaceful. Her father died when she was 10, leaving her mother to raise her and 6 younger siblings on her own. She had Tuberculous as a young woman. Her huband was taken suddenly with a heart attack at home when she was 50. She saw most of her siblings die before her. She lived through two WORLD WARS and the Great Depression. She witnessed the Catholic Church go through dramatic changes in liturgy and attitude. She witnessed the threatening rise and fall of Naziism and Communism. She saw her the neighborhood that housed her for 50 years change in just a few short years. She saw Chicago change so much during her lifetime that she no longer recognized it. Buildings that she saw built were torn down and replaced with new ones. Families went from and average of 4.5 children and 0 cars to having 2.4 children and 3 cars. Atomic bombs exploded. Planes flew faster than the speed of sound. There were buildings 100 stories high. Sexual and personal morality became confusingly unregulated. Computers would processs more information in 2 minutes than a man in 1920 could do in 2 years.
So how did she deal with all of these changes?
In two ways.
For those changes that seemed bad, she accepted them.
For those that seemed good, she appreciated them.
For the bad, not a bitter acceptance. Nor even a passive one. But a peaceful one. I never saw Aunt Rosaleen angry or impatient. I had nverer known her to be anxious or depressed. I never heard her want to escape to "the good old days". (Which often weren't that good for her.) Nor did I ever hear her long for a better life in some distant future. She was rooted in the present. If something bad happened to her, her typical response was, "Oh, well."
For the good? Ah, let me tell you that Aunt Rosaleen attended more family functions than enyone else in the clan. She appears in more family pictures than anyone else....smiling brightly. Yet she hadn't driven to any of them for more than 20 ears or more. Nor had she ASKED to be taken. Yet everyone remembered to invite her along. "Want to go to the Reilly's?" "Sure!" "Want to go to Glen Ellyn? Want to go to Michigan? Want to go to St. Louis or Topeka or Dallas or Florida????" Always the answer was "Sure!" And always when she left the visit, she thanked the hosts.. And when she was dropped off at home, another thanks for the driver. Not once did I hear her make a demand, or offer a criticism. Only thanks.
So what will happen to each of us by the time we "get to be (her) age"? Think about that. Just take a minute or two soometime today and figure it out. I'm about 52. That means that ("The good Lord willing and the creek don't rise") I have about 38 years to go to reach 90. So I will be "her age" around the year 2040. I can't even begin to guess what will happen to me personally before then. Who will live. Who will die. Who will be born. Who will marry. Who will divorce. Who will move away. Who will return home. What will my health be like. My career. My dreams and ambitions. Heck, for all I know, I might not even be able to get back to work after I leave here and finish my route by 6 o'clock like I told my boss I would. And as for the bigger picture - society and the world a large... Well, I could write down 100 major things that I think might happen before 2040, and if I was lucky, maybe 8 of them would come true, but that'd be pure chance. But what's important is not WHAT happens. What is important is how we deal with what happens. And Aunt Rosaleen dealt with change so well. So very well. With acceptance and appreciation.
Two quick personal "thank you" note of my own to Aunt Rosaleen. (There are so many things to be thankful for.)
First, thank you for the gift of Michigan. There's a little pie-shaped slice of waterfront property on Paw Paw Lake that has provided scores of Veras and Pater and Vrtis cousins and their friends and offspring (and offsprings friends) with some of the BEST memories a kid could ever want. For city kids, the cottage experience was the bestest thing this side of Paradise. The long family car rides with sing-a-longs and travel games. The boat rides and turtle hunting and fishing and swimming pulling seaweed and throwing people off the pier and having the pier collapse out from under you and the other memories that last a lifetime. Without Aunt Rosaleen and Uncle Al, much of that probably never would have happened. Together with Uncle Frank and Aunt Rosemary, Uncle Louie and Aunt Lorraine, and my own Mom and Dad, they made us kids the luckiest kids on the face of the earth.
Secondly, thank you Aunt Rosaleen for the gift of your example. You quietly provided all of us with an invaluable model of how to grow old well. From your younger siblings like Aunt Helen and Uncle Nick to whom you were the eldest sibling, down to my grandson Andrew with whoim you used to play Uno and Dominoes and Balloon Volleyball. By watching you and those who helped you, we learned irrplacable lessons on how to live, and how to treat others.
One of the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church that I find most
comforting is the belief in an vibrant, active afterlife.
I mean, angels are nice. But we go one better. We have SAINTS. Big ones, like St. Frances and St. Jude and St. Patrick. And who can top Jesus' mother, Mary??? But the most important ones to me are the little ones. The ones I knew and admired while they lived. The ones who loved and protected and guided me when they were alive. And therefore, heck, they must be even better at it now that they're in heaven. Flesh and blood people who were parents and spouses and children and friends and relatives. Those are the important saints.
At one part of the gospel of Mathew, the Sadducees are trying to prove how
absurd the idea of the resurrection of the dead is. (It's the question about
what happens at resurrection timme to the woman who's husband died, and
proceeds to marry and bury each of his 6 brothers - which is why the story
is never used at funerals). The Saducees believe that death is final.
That there is no life after death.
Jesus' reply is short and powerful. It wasn't till I was in my 40s that I came to understand just how masterful it was. His reply was two sentences long.
In the first sentence, he took them to their own source of authority - scriptures. He said, "...have you not read what God Himself said to you? 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, the God of Jacob.' "
Then, speaking entirely on his OWN authority, Jesus proclaimed a second sentence - "God is the God, not of the dead, but of the living."
That's all he said about the subject. Two sentences. But note the tense in the first one. "I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Not "I WAS". Nor "They worshipped me." But "I am" their God. The second sentence is even deeper. I kind of feel that God is the God of the living AND the dead. Jesus said otherwise - "God is the God, not of the dead, but of the living."
So, IF God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then somehow, somewhere, someway, they must still be alive, even though they all died.
Or else Jesus deliberately lied.
Take your pick.
A final thought. One of Aunt Rosaleen's grandchildren sent me a sympathy card when my Dad died. Inspired by an Eskimo legend, it read "Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down on us to let us know they are happy." Many of you know that for me, looking at the stars reminds me of all the huge circle of friends and family who now share my life from a "heavenly prespective". Earlier this week, before the moon got too full for good star gazing, I picked out a star for Aunt Rosaleen. For me, it'll be Orion's left shoulder. (My Aunt Jeanne, from my Dad's side of the family, who's funeral Mass is being celebrated in Berwyn as I speak, will get Orion's right shoulder.) It's a pity Orion can't be spotted all year long, but on the plus side, it's the easiest constellation to find when it is in the sky.
And one more thing, Aunt Rosaleen. There's an old joke that the only people who really want to be 90 years old are the people who are now 89 years old. But I hope. I really DO hope. That I DO get to be your age. And I aslo hope that IF I do get to be your age, that I'll be loved as much as you are right now.
God bless you Aunt Rosaleen. Pray for us. And thank you.