The Power of Connection: How Attending a Funeral Strengthened My Family Ties

This past weekend, I attended the funeral of my youngest cousin’s wife, Jackie. I barely knew her yet wish I had known her better. We may have met once or twice, and we spoke on the phone a few times about healthy living lifestyles. Arryl, Jackie’s husband and I spoke several times in the last few years.
When I received the news from another cousin of Jackie’s sudden and unexpected death, I immediately knew I wanted to attend her memorial service. I had an inner desire to support my cousin, Arryl. It had been way too long since I had seen him and his 3 sisters. The summer of 2023, they were in Colorado to spread the ashes of both their parents, and I wasn’t able to join them. It was important to me to be with them now and connect with the entire family.
I thought my cousin lived only 4 hours away, so my original plan was to take a long weekend, and drive with my faithful dog Kahlua. The extra day we were going to hike and make it a leisurely drive home. Much to my chagrin, Arryl lived not 4 hours away by car – it was 10 hours. In addition, there was a massive snowstorm moving across Colorado and Wyoming. The 10 hours and impeding snowstorm deterred me from making the drive, however I wasn’t giving up. I quickly booked a flight to Salt Lake City then made carpool plans with other cousins to drive the last 1 ½ hours to Evanston, Wyoming.
While making my travel plans, I was in contact with one of Arryl’s sisters. We were both excited to see each other. She told me Arryl and his other two sisters were happy that I was coming to Jackie’s service and I was looking forward to seeing them. It has been said amongst my family that we have mini family reunions at weddings and funerals. I agree.
Jackie’s Celebration of Life paid tribute to who she was as a woman, mother, wife, and Gammie. Her event was held in a local center that could not have fit the occasion more perfectly. It was set up with tables, food and displays of Jackie’s life. It was casual, without structure and timelines. We were invited to grab some lunch then sit and visit with others celebrating Jackie.
Her children put together a wonderful video with clips of Jackie being Jackie, happy, smiling and loving her family. Daily she sent videos to her family saying good morning and I love you with a flare bigger than life! We saw time spent with her children, grandchildren, husband and nieces and nephews. It was obvious that she loved them all very deeply. It was evident that others loved her deeply as well. I couldn’t tell you who loved who the most!
The adoration continued as family and friends were courageous by stepping to the front of the room and sharing memories about Jackie. I was impressed that several of her grandchildren, as young as 6 years old, spoke boldly about time with their Gammie. This story telling ebbed and flowed as fellow mourners spoke softly at the tables until the next person grabbed the mic and told of their adventures with Jackie.
As I hugged Arryl at his beloved wife’s Celebration, he told me his tears were not ones of sadness. They were tears of memories that he would hold onto forever. The way he thought about losing his wife was so inspirational. There is great strength in being able to think like this.
Woven between meals, car rides and Jackie’s service, I connected with the Anderson family – my 4 cousins. I thought how blessed they were to have each other. It made me reflect that both my brother and sister have gone before me. I am the sole sibling left to continue the legacy of my parents. However, in my moment of singleness, I felt closer to these cousins. Their warmth, love and affection radiated from the top of their hat covered heads to their snow-covered boots. When I was told how grateful they were that I made the trip for Jackie’s Celebration, it was authentic. When they asked how I was doing, they truly cared. When they asked me to come stay with them, the invitation was sincere.
From the moment I connected in Salt Lake City to saying goodbye in Evanston, I bonded with my cousins and their families. Everyone was so genuine and kind. Through death and loss, I have been reunited with my cousins and feel deepening relationships.
Jackies legacy continues through her family, and I am blessed to be part of it.
In memory of Jackie Webster January 4, 1964 – January 2, 2024
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