I came across these words this weekend in a letter written from one cousin to another (well, maybe a cousin once removed) back when people wrote letters to each other. It was striking because less than an hour after reading it, I was driving my mother to the funeral of a recently-rediscovered cousin-in-law. I thought about those words from that letter during the funeral Mass and I thought about the lifespans of families and how over the years – decades – the natural order of families change. They expand, they grow upwards and out, their roots nurture, and their branches support and protect all the new branches that grow. But in all that growing, sometimes families become far removed from shared beginnings – with funerals and weddings being the only occasions when far flung relatives connect, just like Cousin Al wrote.
So, who was this long lost / recently-rediscovered cousin-in-law whose life my mom and I celebrated on Saturday? Her name was Frances Wissman and she was married to the late Fred Wissman. If you are the child or grandchild of Charles, Bill, Bob, Helen, Anne, or Margaret Schellhardt, Fred was their first cousin, the son of Anna Wissman Schellhardt’s brother Alfred and his wife Catherine. (And to put Cousin Al into context, he was a first cousin too – the son of Alfonse and Louisa Wissman).
My mom thought Frances passed away several years ago; however, a couple of weeks ago when another cousin a few steps removed posted about her Aunt Fran and tagged Fran’s daughter, Betty Wissman, my mom connected the dots and realized that this was a branch of the family tree that we lost track of over time. She made plans to visit with Betty and Frances. Sadly, Frances passed away before that came to fruition.
I never met Frances and my mother has few memories of her so I am in no position to write a memorial. What I know of Frances I learned on Saturday from the priest and daughter who eulogized her. They spoke of a kind and humble woman who cared about people, especially those who were marginalized. She led a long life that was filled with love and hope and faith – as all good lives should be.
I am sad that I never had a chance to meet Frances or that my mother did not get the chance to reconnect with her. Such is the lifespan of a family. But just as Cousin Al’s words ring true, so do the words included on the last page of France’s funeral program, “Let us not grieve – beyond letting go – for in the Tree of Life, Frances’ roots and ours are forever intertwined.”
Rest in Peace, Frances Wissman. I hope you were welcomed home by the entire Wissman/Schellhardt clan.