in memoriam

family album: Mary & Donna, studio photo, 1940s

My beautiful, auburn-haired great-aunt, Mary Louise, lover of butterflies and gardens, is dead. She was in her early 80s, with failing health and memory, after years of falls, broken bones, and reduced mobility, which could not have been easy for an active, independent woman. Like her two sisters, she was social, strong-willed, opinionated, and occasionally razor-tongued. Even into her old age, she fought with her younger sister, Donna, for reasons unknown to the rest of us, the origins somewhere in the depths of childhood sibling rivalry, though the competition did not include her four brothers or older sister, my grandmother. Dramatically, Mary would often arrive at family events an hour and a half late, and one learned to plan accordingly. She adored children but could only have one of her own (and that somehow miraculously, per the doctors), a son who died tragically in his twenties. She married five times, twice to the same man, her longest marriage ending with a gentle, quiet man 18 years her junior, who will be burying her this week.

family album: my grandmother, Beverley, 1930s

My childhood holidays were spent eavesdropping on my great-aunts and uncles' lively conversations as the women prepped the meals under the direction of my great-grandmother. That era is long gone. Now there is but one left, the second-to-youngest, and how wrenching it must feel to my great-aunt Donna to have lost so many—and to be the last.

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