Writing often helps with healing. When you lose a relative, young or old, writing or journaling about the person can often bring some closure. My 90-year-old aunt recently passed away. This is how I remember her.
When my Aunt Shirley died at the age of 90, I sent a faded, black and white photo to my cousins. There she was at the Jersey shore, lounging on a striped beach towel in the pebbled sand, beneath a big umbrella, wearing a typical one-piece 1950s bathing suit. Smiling cryptically, her dark, sharp eyes stared back at me. I imagine that my mother, her younger sister Flo, was the photographer, urging her to smile and relax, while my aunt dismissed her with an exaggerated wave of her hand. Relaxing simply wasn’t possible for my aunt who could never let down her guard. She was a take-charge, know-it-all kind of gal with a stubborn perspective on the world—one in which she was always good, while everything else…the news…the weather…the neighbors…her sisters…was bad. Surely her attitude sprang from my grandmother’s arrival on Ellis Island from Poland at the age of 11. She was never able to fully acclimate to her new home.
My aunt became the matriarch of the family when my grandmother died, but her three sisters never cared for her frank, domineering advice that was offered much too freely and always began with, “I’m telling you (name)...” The sisters feuded and overruled each other every step of the way, deigning only to behave on holidays or short visits arranged so the cousins could play together. But through it all, my aunt held firmly onto her family position, ruling long-distance over her daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren when she moved to Florida in her 70s. With her demise went the singularly great skills of knitting and outlet shopping, monthly phone calls, and her legendary recipes for rugelach and chopped liver.
With her passing, no one is poised to take on her mantle. Instead, we are scattered on both coasts and keep in touch only through occasional emails, texts, and visits. There will be no more complaints about the New Jersey snow, the Florida heat, or the idiosyncratic personalities she encountered in assisted living. There will be no more holiday and birthday cards, signed Love, Me, or brief notes tracking great nieces and nephews or second or third cousins.
But her memories will infuse our infrequent get-togethers—the stories making us laugh until we cry. And her favorite, insistent phrase spoken in a thick Jersey accent will forever ring in my ears. I’ll hand the photo off to my cousin’s children, but my aunt’s exaggerated gestures, voice, and piercing gaze will be indelibly printed on my brain… brought immediately back to life whenever I hear the words, “I’m telling you…”
About the author: Nancy Parent is a 20-year veteran of Disney Publishing Worldwide, editing and writing hundreds of books for the MouseWorks and Disney Press vertical imprints as well as Disney global publishers. In addition, Nancy has written and edited for DreamWorks, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, Reader’s Digest Children’s Books, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Andrews & McMeel, Fox, Suzy’s Zoo, and Lyrick Entertainment. Most recently, she collaborated on THE BEST DIET BOOK EVER (The Zen of Losting Weight) by Dr. Joseph Parent. Her picture book, Holly Bloom’s Garden, was co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Flashlight Press. Nancy resides in Burbank, CA. She can be reached at Nancy Parent firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-427-3909.