My Aunt Bette died a few days ago. A couple weeks before her death, my Aunt Vickie died. And just a few months prior to that, last autumn my Aunt Jeannette died. In six months, three sisters died and our family lost the last of its venerable aunties...women that my generation has known all its lives. And with each death, I’ve felt that some small part of us has died as well.
As in any large family (my Mom was one of 14!), relationships weren’t always amicable. Misdeeds and misunderstandings, perhaps, led to grudges that persisted between some of the sibs and family members through the years. As a result, I don’t know some of my cousins as well as I could have and I regret the fact we’re not closer. On the other hand, some cousins I know quite well and cherish.
Once the aunties reached their late 80s and then into their 90s, we expected that they would some day have to pass. It’s the cycle of life and though expected and inevitable, it does not lessen the sadness nor the hurt, nor the loss. My Mom died a few years ago at age 87. All these aunts have led long and fruitful lives. What strong, independent women they were. How proud each one of them was of their family and in turn, we shared pride in them.
Aunt Bette was the matriarch of the Lacoste side of my family. We called her Queen Elizabeth and she reveled in it. She was the magnet that drew everyone to her little house for visits. The glue that held the generations together. She lived in the same house for 70+ years... a house she built with my uncle. The coffee pot was always on and countless family members gathered around her kitchen table over the years to eat, drink, play cards, laugh and gab. Her tiny house, though sometimes filled to capacity with visitors, was always warm and welcoming.
I’ve learned lots over the years. The memories of my aunts bring to mind how wonderful family is. How grudges and stubbornness should have no place in our lives because it’s easier to forgive than hold a grudge. How much we miss if we don’t pay attention. How short and fragile life is and how irreversible and final death is.
With each auntie’s death, I’ve reflected on my relationships with them and the rest of my family. I was in England when Aunt Jeannette died and in San Diego when Aunt Vickie died. This time, I’ll return to my roots in Massachusetts for Aunt Bette’s memorial service. For me, it will be a celebration of them all. Though sadness prevails at the moment, I’m looking forward to paying my respects to a wonderful woman and remembering her sisters, too. I’m looking forward to the tears and the hugs of family, the laughter and the reminiscing that is part of the life celebration and the oneness of spirit we’ll all feel as we bid Aunt Bette and the last of the great aunties farewell... knowing full well, a part of them lives on in all of us.