My mother's youngest sister died yesterday; the very last of my aunts and of her generation in our family. She was over 80 and had been failing for several years, both mentally and physically, and her death, which came quickly and peacefully, was merciful. Still, tonight I feel bereft. As one of my cousins pointed out when I called with the news, we're the eldest generation now. It feels a bit strange and a lot lonely.
My aunt Trish, was the youngest in her family; my mother and one other sister were a lot older, young adults when Trish was born. Trish was closer to my age and generation than to my mother's, our children were much of an age and I always regarded her more as a friend than as an 'aunt'. Like her whole family, Trish was intelligent, funny and quirky. A 'true O'Neil' my mother would say, a story teller, wonderful fun to be with.
When I moved to the city where she lived, her boys were both under ten and my girls four and five. We did reciprocal babysitting, did things together as families, talked endlessly on the phone.
My red haired aunt coveted my red haired daughter, she said. It was one of the family jokes. My great grandfather had flaming red hair; he had ten children and none of them inherited it but in the second generation each of his children produced at least one red haired child. Trish was the red head in her family and revelled in it. When it started to darken she 'tweaked' it. She also loved pink and when we shopped it was my job to tell her whether a particular shade of pink 'worked' with her hair or not.
I brought her pink roses just before Christmas. The last time I saw her. She was so, so frail and she didn't really know who I was. But when she saw the roses she brightened right up.
Trish did everything at speed and with style. She wore ridiculously high heels and tapped along confidently, back straight, head high. In later years she slipped in those heels on some ice and smashed her elbow. It was plated and pinned and after a year or so of therapy she was back at work. Typing! And the only complaint she ever made was that it was weird to have her husband putting on her bra and combing her hair for her.
She was kind to me, generous. One year on Christmas Day I had flu. She arrived with her family for Christmas Dinner, which it was my year to host, took one look at me and ordered me off to lie down, grabbed an apron and took over the whole meal.
The worst thing she ever did to me was make me sub in her bridge group. They were all experienced, skilled players and I was......not. It was worth it for the dessert afterwards, though. She was a wonderful cook and let me in on some of my grandmother's recipes that even my mother did not know.
I have photos of her as a child, teen (holding me, in fact) and bride, but no good pictures of her from later years. In every shot I could find she is either in the background or turned away from the camera. Not from self consciousness but because she was doing something else -- skating, biking, skiing, laying out a picnic lunch. And laughing, always laughing.
We used to walk in a park by the river. Take a picnic lunch to celebrate her birthday. She loved it there with the water and the trees and the birds and the wind blowing her hair. She loved spring and summer.
This isn't a shaped piece of writing -- it's bits and pieces. A patchwork. But I guess a life isn't tidy either, is it? I can't think of a good way to end it either. A piece of my life fell away yesterday. And I am poorer for it.