This past year has been a year full of death for my family, and this evening my father called to tell me about the death of yet another family member that happened early yesterday morning: the death of my great-aunt Carol, my Grandpa’s older sister.
This one wasn’t much of a shock to me, because we all knew that Carol was in very bad shape and rapidly deteriorating. When I went to visit her for the last time shortly after Grandma’s death last November, she was living in an assisted-living nursing home and was confined to a motorized wheelchair. Knowing that I was returning to Florida the following day and that it might be at least another year before I returned to Illinois, I went to visit her that evening with my uncle and cousins knowing with almost full certainty that it would be the last time I would ever see or speak with her. And it was.
I was never very close with Carol at all because she always lived so far away from the rest of the family. When I was growing up, she lived in suburban Chicago where she operated her own publishing company. She would periodically drive down for week long visits at Grandma and Grandpa’s house with her two little gray poodle dogs Misty and Tammy. Many years later after I reached adulthood, she moved from Chicago to Waukesha, Wisconsin where she remained until about a year and a half ago when she decided to move back home to be close to the rest of the family in her final years. Carol had contracted polio as a child and suffered from post-polio the rest of her life. Whenever I saw her during visits over the years, I noticed that her physical condition steadily became worse and worse every time I saw her. By the time I saw her for the final time last November, she looked utterly decrepit and had very little mobility left.
Although I never knew her very well, Carol and I were alike in a lot of ways. Just like me, she grew up in the country boondocks of the Midwest and hated it so much that she packed up and moved away to downtown Chicago during college to begin a new life. Both of us fled to the big cities because neither of us felt that we fully fit in with rural country life. Carol and I both attended the same college, although she transferred to Northwestern University during her Junior year and finished her education there. Carol was one of the few women who attended college back in the early 1950’s, and she never married nor had any kids, which was also almost unheard of for that time period. She was a fiercely independent, stubborn, career woman just like me. Grandma often remarked that Carol and I had that in common.
Carol ran her own publishing company and even wrote and self-published an autobiographical memoir of her childhood days during the Great Depression under a pseudo-name. The book was titled “Granny: The Doll Who Owned The World”, and every member of our family received a copy of it. When I became interested in writing during my college years and received pay for a few of my articles, Carol sent me a box full of books and pamphlets all about how to get written works published. She was really proud of me for having been offered money in exchange for my writing and she thought I could take it even further.
Interestingly, my father told me that he received some sort of an omen a few hours before Carol died. He was sitting up late in his living room watching TV when his oil lantern suddenly blew out by itself. It takes a good amount of direct force to blow out an oil lantern flame that is encased in glass, so he immediately took that as some sort of sign that someone was about to pass away. (For being a man who possesses such a strong sense of logic and reason, my Dad sure is superstitious!) After seeing that “sign”, he purposely stayed up until the wee hours of the morning waiting for a phone call to relay some bad news. When no phone call came, he finally gave up and went to bed. But then the following morning he received the call that Aunt Carol had died in her sleep.
There won’t be any funeral to attend since Carol will be promptly cremated, and she wants her ashes to be poured into Lake Michigan since she loved the city of Chicago so much. That’s another thing that Carol and I have in common: We both want to be cremated and have our ashes poured into the water after our deaths…..hers in Lake Michigan and mine in the Atlantic Ocean.
I wasn’t close enough to Carol to really mourn her death like I did with Grandma, but the news of her death was sobering for me in that it made me realize just how much of my family has already died. At this rate, there won’t be many of us left before long. My Aunt Linda, Dad’s older sister, is now the oldest remaining member of our family at 60 years old. It’s a scary thought to know that she and my Dad are now the oldest in our family and that they will likely be the next ones to die. It makes me feel somewhat vulnerable and powerless to see the strong hierarchical structure of my family disappearing due to deaths. It’s been hard enough losing Grandma and Grandpa, because they were in charge of our entire family like captains of a ship. My father is my closest remaining next of kin aside from my brother, and Dad isn’t exactly in the best of health. When he , too, eventually dies one of these days, then I will truly be lost and orphaned.
I just wish I could hold onto my family for a little longer. It feels like they are all slipping away from me one by one. And they are all that I have.