It is really hard to let go. That is true of so many things. Recently, however, I had to let go of someone. Earlier this month my aunt Gloria Martin passed away. She woke up one morning in pain and four weeks later she was gone. I had a bad feeling that once she went in to the hospital she would never come home. My mother assured me that she would, but I just felt it.
I'm a coward when it comes to sickness and death. About seventeen years ago one of my cousins passed away after a lengthy illness. My sister went to visit with him and his siblings encouraged me to do the same. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I know that his condition at the time of his death would in no way alter my memories of him, yet I didn't want that image to be the last one I had of him. He had suffered for so long. Over the last couple of years I have lost two uncles, both of whom I loved very much. I don't think you could find two more different men, yet their relationship with me was always loving and respectful. Both treated me as if I had some sense long before I really did. One died unexpectedly; the other after a short illness of about eight weeks. I didn't go visit him either. He had always been a fixture in my life, often in ways others didn't know about. My father and I have always had a tenuous relationship. This particular uncle, his brother, made it a point to check on my sister and myself on a regular basis after my parents' divorce. Although I'm sure he wanted to know that we were doing okay, I think he really just wanted to be sure we didn't lose touch. He was a very handsome man with a quick, brilliant smile. I know that he and his children went through some rough times, as well, but to me he was a steady positive influence for a very long time. Even after I left home, went to college, and got married he showed an interest in my and my life. When Erin came along and later began to play sports, he came to games and kept up with mentions of her in the newspaper.
Aunt Gloria was the first of my mother's siblings to pass away. She has never had a day in her life that she was not plagued by physical discomfort in one way or another, yet those around her would never guess. As she wasn't that much older than myself or my sister, there were some rough days among us as adolescents. As we grew older, she and her twin sister, Gladys, would often come to our house and we would play cards. I still remember those rather loud games fondly. But my favorite memories of her are those of her with Erin. From the time Erin was born I believe she had both Gladys and Gloria as her devoted slaves. She loved them and they adored her. Gladys would roughhouse with her, rolling around on the floor overcome with giggles. Gloria wasn't able to do that, but would have Erin sitting in the chair next to her and read, color, or just talk. Even as a very small child, Erin seemed to understand that we had to be careful with Gloria; that we couldn't run and jump on her the way she did with Gladys. Having never had children of their own, I believe Gladys and Gloria loved all their nieces and nephews as if they were their own.
I didn't go see Gloria while she was in the hospital. I kept up with her condition through phone conversations with my mother or another of my aunts. I was afraid that Erin might not be able to come home for the funeral, but we were lucky that she was able to work it out. Standing with my mother, sister, and daughter at the casket it struck me that the three generations of us will do this again. At our age (my sister's and mine) we will have to do this more frequently, I'm afraid. I know that is a part of growing older and certainly one of the unavoidable conditions of life. Like I said, I'm a coward about sickness and death. They are disruptions in my life and always bring about changes I'm not ready for. I haven't been back to my grandmother's since the day of Gloria's funeral. I know that I will have to soon. I sat with her the Sunday before Gloria died and had to tell her just how bad Gloria's condition was. Her grief was overwhelming. She and I sat holding each other and crying for over an hour. She told me several times that she hoped I never had to go through the death of a child, that it isn't natural for a mother to bury her children. I believe that witnessing her grief at the loss of a child - regardless of the age of that child - will affect me for the rest of my life. I'm not sure yet just what that impact will be, but I know it is waiting there for me to face it.
My aunt Gloria loved me as I loved her. Going to my grandmother's will never be the same and I'm sure I will always look for Gloria before I remember. I'm going to miss her a bit more every day.