I just learned that my great Aunt Molly, one of my grandfather’s remaining siblings, passed away today.
It took some time to process this information after I received the phone call from my cousin. I would be lying if I said we were particularly close–it has easily been a year-and-a-half since the last time I saw her, since her health began to decline and she went into an assisted living center.
But Aunt Molly used to be one of the regulars at the Adult’s table growing up, and a sense of importance and regality surrounded her and the fact that she somehow out-adulted my own parents. I am 27 now, but Aunt Molly always seemed to be the same age: old–old enough to seem delicate, but never in jeopardy of dying. This though, comes with almost 2 years of decline since the last time I saw her–between reality and the memories I kept carefully preserved from it.
I can’t help but smile at my use of the word “delicate” to describe her in any capacity. Although each one distinct, beautiful, and in youth, even glamorous, “delicate” has never been a word one easily associated the Wuillermin girls of that generation (although the others are questionable, that trait that obviously remains dominant). So, even though to me, Aunt Molly was always old, she hadn’t been actually, and from the stories passed down, she had many suitors in her time beyond her husbands (yes, plural). I never remember seeing her without her make up on or her hair done–the thinned salt and pepper strands teased like she just came from the beauty parlor.
Aunt Molly had a way of just saying things–saying what came to her mind, without much time to sugarcoat it (ahh, genetics…). The last time I saw her, she called me over to her table (we were at my aunt’s wedding reception) to ask me if I was pregnant (I was sporting a rather flowy top at the top). But in between her candid–and oftentimes unwanted–observations, she told me numerous times that she thought I’d “go far in life” and that I had a “good head on my shoulders.”
I’d also be lying if I said that the incredible sadness I’m feeling over the news is solely limited to my aunt’s passing. In some ways, I know this was a relief for her. I know the past few years had not been kind, and through the tangled grapevine of family information, I had heard that she had articulated her hope for death. My hope now is that she is at rest, that she is at peace, that angels have led her in. But beyond her death, I find myself wrestling with the overwhelming feeling that something else is slipping away, quickly and quietly–I am grappling with this urgent reminder that time is limited and soon the generation I held in such regard will be gone: soon an entire level of my family tree, of my recollection, will no longer exist in the flesh.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the pain of that, in the overwhelming sense of loss and my inability to stop my life from changing. I have been hitting a point in my life where I am realizing the quickness and significance of these changes and how many more are yet to come. I would be lying once again if I said these truths didn’t terrify me. I do not want to see my family fade. Aunt Molly, along with the other “old timers” who have already passed–my Aunt Lee, my Uncle Joe, my beloved grandfather–to me, are the “roots” of our family tree. They are the foundation, the “first” generation–the story keepers, the secret holders, the all-knowers. And with every loss, with every passing, I feel like my history unravels, destined to soon only exist in the faded photographs found in a shoebox at the bottom of my grandmother’s hallway closet.
But I force myself to remember the cyclical nature of all things, most importantly, life. We all continue, all age, all die, so the next generation can do the same.
We lose love, but we replace it with new love… Like the branches and leaves on a tree: they serve an important purpose for some time, their beauty and strength admired by the outside world. But, eventually, they must fall, fade, die, break, to make room for more growth, for more beauty. Our family has lost another “old timer,” but through my cousin, his soon-to-be wife, and their unborn child, there is already promise of a new life waiting in the wings. So it’s not a matter of our family fading, or even being replaced–it is a matter of it expanding, growing, and maintaining its spirit and legacy after this life is over, through the eyes and memories of new members.
It is not a matter of forgetting or being forgotten: we have not let go, but we must move on. We must grow.