My aunt died on Tuesday. It was utterly unexpected. To sum it up, she was my father’s eldest sister, left two adult children who’d already lost their father, and was one of the most compassionate, brave people I’ve ever had the fortune to know.
Since I was born, we’ve not really had any kind of major death in the family. Both of my parent’s grandparents already passed, and their parents are in their 80s and doing quite fair. There haven’t been any tragic accidents or surprise diseases. So, for twenty years, we’ve been fortunate enough to not lose anyone especially close to my immediate family unit. Outside of the grief, there was a lot of new things to deal with — for instance, what to do with myself.
It seemed like there was a sea of task to complete in the wake of this tragedy, yet none of them were things I could do. At most, I could take care of the little things, so I threw myself into cleaning the house for my family’s arrival, making loads of comfort food (cookies, cake, mac n’ cheese, your basic carb-heavy goodness), filling the house with fresh daffodils from our gardens, asking my various family members if they wanted something to drink/their glass refilled/a pot of coffee made just about every five seconds, etc. It’s nothing, though, in comparison to what my father or other aunts did, not by a long shot — dropping everything to fly out, cleaning my aunt’s house of water damage, sorting through her belonging, searching for financial documents, contacting family and friends with the news.
I don’t know about them, but I kept myself so preoccupied that when the actual service came around, I wasn’t so dry-eyed as everyone else. Almost as soon as I got in the parking lot of the church it was as though someone turned on a faucet and kept it running. The service itself was even worse. The pastor, this guy my grandfather is good friends with, looked very pointedly at me midway through his speech to say that “it’s the time and place for crying.”
Thank you. I was so worried, I wasn’t sure.
We sat in the third row of the family group. My cousin’s baby, Claire, almost six months old, was in the pew front of me, being held by her grandma. She was quite the distraction when I sought one. It didn’t seem to phase her that both the person holding her and the person staring at her were crying — but that’s babies for you, they’re not exactly known for being perceptive — and she just calmly chewed on her colorful stuffed giraffe, gazing back at me with huge baby-y blue eyes.
It struck me that it was so odd to have two such contrasts — the start of a life and the closing of one, side-by-side. I mean, it’s nothing new or revolutionary. People having been dying ever since people where a thing, and I have no doubt many a baby has attended a funeral. Still, it was staring me right in the face on Saturday. While we had lost our Mary, we would still be blessed with the chance to see this little one blossom and grow.
My aunt never got to meet Claire. In her five months of life, the opportunity never arose, I guess. It makes me sad to know that this good-natured, sweet little girl will never get to meet the equally good-natured and sweet great-aunt that I knew and loved so dearly. My Aunt Mary was everything one could hope to be in life — generous, intelligent, kind, loving, adventurous, warm, patient, humorous, empathetic — and I promise I’m not simply saying that. When people die, others tend to sing their praises a little loudly, I know, but I truly mean this. She was a marvelously generous soul. If I could grow to be even a quarter of the person she was, I’d be very blessed.
Every time I drink a cup of green tea, I remember her, and how she taught me the superiority of tea to coffee. The flowers on my desk remind me of the flowers she sent when I was eleven in honor of me approaching “womanhood.” I meditate thinking of her and the spiritual books she gave me. In the morning I dress and pick through my jewelry collection, fingers always skirting the Balinese wooden bracelet she sent when I turned fifteen and expressed the desire for Fair Trade gifts. There are so many things in my life left that will remind me of her. I look forward to the days when I take pause in the midst of my mornings to reminisce in thoughts of her.
I know this doesn’t exactly have a concise message or thought, but it suits my purposes well enough; I’m still muddled from this last week. I’m struggling with dealing with this loss as well as striving to give my family the support they deserve, which is especially difficult when you’re nearly five hours away and you’ve missed seeing some of them since before you were in high school. I don’t know how to help anyone, let alone myself. In time things will be okay — we’ve already started joking again, telling stories, laughing. Things will be okay, in time. I’m just trying to figure out how to get there.