That’s Not Aunt Mary by John Cali

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John Cali

Our thoughts often turn to our families during the holiday season. During the recent holidays, I got to thinking about my mother, Mary. She died in 1988.

In my family’s Roman Catholic religious tradition, we had “wakes” when someone died. A wake consisted of displaying the body in an open casket for several days before the funeral mass and burial. Friends and family would come to pay their respects to the dead one and her immediate family.

During my mother’s wake, two of my elderly cousins appeared one afternoon together. Giovanni and Giuseppe were brothers, and rather colorful Sicilian characters. They bustled into the funeral home, rushing headlong to the back room of the building.

Kneeling before the casket with bowed heads, they offered a silent prayer. As they rose to their feet, they looked, for the first time, into the casket. After exchanging long, shocked glances with each other, Giovanni finally blurted out, “That’s not Aunt Mary!”

Giovanni and Giuseppe had gone into the wrong room. As it happened that day, there were two wakes at the funeral home. The brothers had not bothered to check which room my mother’s wake was in.

Later on, we had a large dinner party to celebrate my mother’s life, as is the Sicilian custom. And we all had a good laugh at Giovanni’s and Giuseppe’s colossal blunder.

On a more serious note, I got to thinking later about how often we do the same thing my cousins did. Except we do it in our relationships with live human beings.

How often do we not even bother to look and see who this person before us is? We just plough thoughtlessly and blindly ahead, not caring enough to really look and see.


You live in a world today that often seems impersonal and uncaring. A world where the individual seemingly counts for little. Even in your modern world of technology, the marvelous and quick communication your technology affords you often becomes impersonal and uncaring.

We are not criticizing you, friends, for the way you often interact with each other, or fail to. In your hurried and harried lives, it often seems difficult to slow down and take the time, as you say, to smell the roses. Or to get to know a little bit about the sisters and brothers, your fellow travellers, you meet on your daily journey through life.

So we do understand where you are in your lives.

But we also want to say it would behoove you to slow down a bit every now and then. Take some time to smell the roses. Take some time to peek under the masks of those folks you encounter every day.

You all wear masks. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But your masks also keep you from truly connecting with each other, even with those loved ones you see every day, perhaps even those you live with.

It takes only a few moments to ask someone you encounter on your daily rounds, “How are you?” And really mean it — not just as a hollow, empty greeting — but as a genuine expression of concern for your fellow traveller.

Just be open to listen, really listen, for a few moments — and to connect with one another. Or to re-connect.

It won’t take a lot of your time, and it will yield rich rewards.

After all, you are all connected anyway. You are all one, even though you live in the illusion of separation.

So take the time to lift the veils of illusion, to look beneath the masks. And to remember the love that binds all of you together.

Then you’ll never find yourselves in Giovanni’s and Giuseppe’s predicament of having no idea who the person before you is.

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