I attended my great aunt Tillie's funeral this past Saturday, December 10th. It tore at my chest knowing that I didn't see her the last time when my parents said a bunch of family was going to visit her. I couldn't even remember why I hadn't attended.
Several members of my family have passed away during the past few years and it constantly makes me think of the fleetingness of life and time. I can still hear my Auntie Tillie's voice in my head greeting me in that friendly way that she always did when I was little. It's hard for me to know that I'll never hear it again. It's harder for me to know that I can't remember much about her and my uncle Keenie from when I was little.
Within the past couple years, my memories have been fading fast. I used to have a great memory, and still do for certain things, although it is random what is clear and what is not. Many events or facts I find important have disappeared, and many trivial things remain emblazoned in my brain. I've been carrying a notebook around and trying to take my camera with me where ever I go, in case I want to remember something, or write something down should a memory pop up.
It hurt me to know that I didn't have any specific memories of my Auntie Tillie, nor my Uncle Keenie. I vaguely remember having lots of fun with them when they'd come over and play mah jong. There'd be two tables set up at my parents' house, and everyone would be having a great time playing. I remember Uncle Keenie would take lots of pictures and always had a fancy camera. My more vivid memories of them both are when they are young, probably the age my parents are now. It puts a lump in my throat to remember them with canes and walkers and eventually my Auntie Tillie in a wheelchair the past few years. I rarely saw them.
Despite the fact that I married the wrong person, I'm glad I did, because many of my family members that attended my wedding have passed away. I remember my mother telling me that we needed to invite 300 people because I was one of the few left in my generation that would be getting married, and it was one of our last opportunities to get the family together again. She was right, and it breaks my heart. I've seen my family more frequently the past few years only because so many people have died.
I've realized that the hardest part about going to these funerals for people I didn't see very often, is watching their immediate family, still my family, lose someone so close to them. I sat next to my grandparents as I watched my cousin Kari weep that her grandmother was gone, that she lost someone so close to her. And tears streamed down my cheeks for her, and for the future me that would cry and cry because my grandparents were gone.
I listened to my Uncle Stevie and Uncle Dennis talk so warmly and sorrowfully about their mother, and give a wonderful slideshow filled with beautiful pictures of their mother's life, and I cried empathetic as well as selfish tears, never ever wanting to lose mine, but trying hard to accept that I would one day have to do this for her and my dad.
My Auntie Kathy recently lost her husband, my Uncle Bob, and it pained me to see her and think about how it must feel to lose a husband so young. I selfishly tell my boyfriend that he has to let me die first. I hate to think that anyone has to suffer that way. I put my arms around her and hugged her tightly at the funeral, and I really was so sorry. And I hugged his children, my cousins, and I never wanted to lose my dad and my heart ached for them.
There is always more to do, there are always events to go to, the calendar marches on completely disregarding my feelings. Days are lost, as are memories, and I'm angry. I don't want farmers' market visits with my mom to be gone. I don't want my dad to stop asking for peppermint bark for Christmas and posting pictures on facebook with his camera that he proudly states is only sixty dollars. I try not to think about the letters my grandmother sent me when I was in college because I know she could never write one that cognizant now in her condition. But, I keep the letters. And I think about how she used to pick me up from school and give me advice on dealing with bullies.
There was a period where it was a trend in elementary school to trick someone into looking at something or believing something and then saying "psych!" This upset me to no end. I came home from elementary school, furious that this was occurring.
"You just tell them, 'Don't psyche me out!' when they do that. Okay?" my grandmother wisely advised me. I knew this would not work, but I nodded anyway. And then I remember another time in Junior High that some boys were teasing me and they had taken some piece of paper from me as I was on my way to my grandmother's car where she was picking me up from school. They were flirting, and I enjoyed the attention at some level, but I got in the car in a huff. I practically had to hold her arm so she wouldn't get out of the car in my defense, which would ultimately leave me mortified.
I know my grandmother would go to extreme lengths to protect me, even now, despite the fact that she's frail and forgets what happened only seconds ago. She mostly relies on my grandfather to carry out her wishes, forgetting that he too is having trouble just taking care of them both, let alone his granddaughter. He has said that he doesn't want to cook anymore, that it stresses him out, yet most of the time that I call for our Tuesday dinners, my grandmother doesn't remember this. She stubbornly demands that I tell her what I want my grandfather to cook for dinner. To avoid this situation, I just ask to talk to him directly, and then we can plan what restaurant we want to go to, without my grandmother volunteering him to cook. I know if it were offered by my grandmother, he would never go back on it and say he wouldn't cook for me.
I often wonder what my grandfather thinks about. Daily problems appear to cause him stress, and sometimes I hope that this overrides his ability to think about all the siblings he's lost. Sometimes at our dinners I ask him to tell me stories from his past, and he will ultimately tell me that he misses his brother Kaye, that Kaye was his best friend. It's all I can do to avoid breaking down in tears every time he says this. My grandfather and his siblings were always the happiest and most loving bunch, all of them friendly and funny and beautiful. My grandfather and his brothers were all really quite handsome, and his sisters equally beautiful, though I'd never met the youngest one, Gladdy, since she died young. It seems she was the favorite, too.
My Uncle Kaye didn't want people around in his final years when he was really sick. I didn't get to see him much, but I remembered when he'd come over and draw amazing pictures for me or play games with me. I was so spoiled. I still am awful at word jumbles to this day, and I remember playing once with my Uncle Kaye. We'd take turns picking a word and then have to jumble it to have the other person guess what it was. Every word was too hard for me so I forced him to choose shorter and shorter words, until I was only allowing him to choose three-letter words because everything else was impossible for me to solve. When it was my turn, what did I choose? Serendipity. It was a word I only knew because of the children's book by Stephen Cosgrove. Looking back now, it's the only word I feel like I can use to describe ending up in a family like mine.
If there's one thing that I've realized over time, however painfully at these most recent funerals, as I've grown up and met more and more people, it's that my family is exceedingly warm, welcoming and wonderful. To all the Chinese Warrens and their connections out there, I love you, and thank you for being you.