Seeing Ghosts

Posted on September 6th, 2010

On Saturday morning, I went to a funeral for a beloved great-uncle.

Louis Lanyk was 93, and was in good health most of his life.  He died of heart failure–the doctors had warned him a couple of months before that one of his valves was leaking, and there was nothing that could be done for him.

He lived a good life.  I’ll always remember his brilliant bright blue eyes, and the way he loved to laugh.  I’d grown to know him well over the past several years, driving up to the Twin Cities to see him about once every month or two. We both looked forward to those visits.

I was only related to him through his marriage of Lily Lanyk (formerly Sutkaitis), my maternal grandmother’s sister.  She was also someone who loved laughter–someone who could find good humor in almost any situation.

The service was held in a 100-year-old church in Eveleth, Minnesota.  The church had a kind of timeless beauty to it.  The first thing I noticed upon seeing the display in the center was Louis’ staff sitting in the middle of the aisle, next to his cremated remains.

It was perfect symbolism.  He had leaned on that staff for many years, just as he’d served as support for countless others in the past 93 years.  It had been his constant companion for the past several years, and fit him well.

The service proceeded as funerals generally do.  The priest spent some time covering his life, and I found two pieces of information that I hadn’t known.  First, Louis had been retired my entire life–it was amazing to think of someone having their entire childhood, raising several children to adulthood, and their entire career before I was born.

After that, he still lived long enough for me to go through my own childhood, college, and starting my career before we really started developing a relationship.  There’s an amazing aspect of time there, and I cherish the connection that we were able to make:  both with him and my Aunt Lily (though I only had a couple of years of getting to know her before she passed in 2008).

The second new piece of information was that Louis and Lily had actually been married in the same church, about 68 years before.  As I sat in the pew, I couldn’t help but imagine the two of them standing before the same altar, vowing to love each other forever so many years ago.

In other words, I was seeing ghosts.  Times long past, but I could imagine the two of them together then, and now laid to rest next to each other for many years to come.

After the funeral, burial, and wake, we drove around the towns in the area.  My mom had spent a good portion of her childhood there, and she’s only been back a few times since she left.  I remembered a lot from one of our earlier visits, including recognizing some of the places.

One of the places we visited was the family farm home built around eighty years ago.  Unfortunately, it’s falling into disrepair, but there is enough remaining that I can still visualize how kids must have sat around the table, or people cooking in the kitchen.  All along, I could almost hear the laughter of a close-knit family.

Connecting to one’s past is enlightening.  Words are failing me at the moment, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have connected to where part of my family came from.  While I’ll miss Uncle Louis, it comforts me to know he had a life that was so full of good.  It gives me hope for the future.

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