I tried to write out every little thing I could remember about my great aunt last Saturday. I think because it was the right thing to do, to ponder and think and remember all of the things that I hadn’t thought of in so long. But more, I think, because I felt lost in what should be a bone crushing grief: this was essentially my surrogate grandmother, my last link to my mother’s parents and family, the one woman left on Earth who had known my mother all of her life.
Except I wasn’t feeling it.
There was a moment in church last Thursday (my daughter is an altar server and she had to serve during this special prayer week we have going on) when the strains of “Be Not Afraid” wafted from the organ where I felt it. “Be not afraid,” the lyrics go. “I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.” I felt a pull in my chest, whispering the words to myself, words that I sent out into the universe to my great aunt, struggling at that moment to live or die. But you’d think I’d have felt more, in church, in that moment. But I didn’t.
I felt the tiny pin prick of tears and I gasped and sighed when I got the email from my cousin telling me of her death. I’d been waiting for that moment when I thought I would just….know….that she wasn’t with us. As it turns out it happened late at night while I was asleep. I’d walked three miles with the dog and cheered my daughter on in a soccer game in blissful ignorance. There was no cosmic knowledge of what I’d lost. It was gone, she was gone, and I had no idea until technology worked its magic to confirm it to me.
My sister cried, of course. In fact, she called me out on the fact that I wasn’t crying: “Why aren’t you more sad?”
I responded, blithely, that I’d cried my tears already, earlier. In reality, this is so much more deeply true than my flip comment would suggest. I’ve been sad for years knowing that my aunt was still alive in the world and that we were no longer a part of her life. She was so much to me and mine growing up, but in the last twenty years? She missed my wedding, hasn’t met either of my younger children, and the only times I’ve seen her since 1993 are the times I’ve traveled to see her. So little has she been part of my adult life, in fact, that when I told my mother in law that my Aunt Katie died, she had no idea who I was talking about. She’d never really heard mention of her in my day to day life. Of course not. She hasn’t been there. Which is weird, because when I was kid, she was always there.
I don’t know what to do with that, my oblique sadness of a relative who ostensibly was lost to me a long time ago. I don’t know where to place my grief that is riddled with an anger I am embarrassed to even speak of. I’m sad, I’m angry, and I’m lost. I’m crestfallen that this woman who I idolized, loved, respected so much has no idea who I ended up to be, how much I grew and matured. How selfish is that? Me, me, me. But yet there it is.
And to add to my feelings of confusion on her death, there is no funeral. My aunt was cremated already, but her children don’t really know what else to do with her. I find this a little strange, as they’ve known her health was declining for so long. They’re in their sixties, these two: they couldn’t figure this out ahead of time? I did it when I was just twenty two. We’d planned her arrangements with her before she left us. But maybe that’s the problem. Losing my mom at twenty two meant I knew how fragile life was. Having your mother around your whole adult life means you take her for granted.
Lucky them. They’d gotten to take her for granted.
I don’t know what I am looking for really. Peace, I suppose, as always. Closure. To find that somehow, what I thought I shared with my aunt did somehow exist, that it mattered, that it wasn’t all just in my head. And too, somehow, that she missed me over the last few years as much as I’ve missed her. And I know, I know I can’t look outside of myself to ever find those things, that those things need to come from within myself. I’ll get there, I am sure. I hope. Well, maybe.
Until then…I’ll comfort myself by remembering. Remembering Aunt Katie.
She baked brownies, drank white wine spritzers at 5 o’clock every day, and knit baby booties for everyone she ever knew that had a baby. She joked about forgetfulness (“I’ve had a series of small strokes, you realize….”), made homemade pies and knew how to make everything look easy. I always remember her voice in my head when I roll out and cut cookies: “Try to get as close to the edge as you can so you don’t waste any.” She was big on not wasting things. She washed and saved her aluminum foil. She would root peach pits on the sunny kitchen window in glasses. She taught me how to scrape every bit of batter out of the mixing bowl with the rubber scraper: “If you’d lived through the Depression you’d realize that all those scrapings could make a whole other serving.” Every Christmas she sent us a huge gift box full of at least a dozen different kinds of cookies and Christmas treats. My favorites were these round ones that I think had almonds in them that crumbled into a million pieces when you took a bite. She made this tomato relish every year that my mother loved to eat on her hard boiled egg sandwiches; I’ve never seen another concoction like it anywhere.
I miss her.