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Scattered

My aunt died.  The ChickieNob was using my phone to watch a movie when my cousin texted me the news, and it came through on the screen.  I heard her start screaming and then crying, and she ran into my room, trying to tell me something, but she couldn’t get the words out.  I knew she had been watching Lord of the Rings, and I had this crazy idea that she was sobbing because Boromir had died.  And I told her, “you’ve seen him die a hundred times.  Why is this time different?”  But it wasn’t Boromir.

Once I understood, I brought her into the rocking chair and held her for a half hour.  In the quiet, I felt my heart crack open in my chest, like an egg that had been roughly smashed against the side of a bowl to splinter the shell.  It felt like hands were reaching it and scooping out the yolk forcefully, instead of letting it drip out by its own accord.  I felt hollowed.  Scattered.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone with my mother and cousins and Josh, sending emails, trying to untangle ourselves for the next few days so we could go to the funeral.  I made the crepes I planned for dinner.  I drank tea.  It didn’t feel real, this untethering.  She was the last of my grandmother’s sisters.

*******

The ChickieNob is a little magpie.  She collects things; tangible objects that she keeps in bins in her closet, but also stories, photographs, information.  She notices everything.  She remembers everything.  She picks up all the little bits that others leave behind.

She had the forethought to collect my aunt’s stories last spring for an hour.  As my aunt looked at the family tree, she told us stories about growing up and meeting her husband and getting engaged and becoming a mother.  A few weeks ago, I sent the recording to her sons, and listened to it in full for the first time since we recorded it.  In the moment, I felt like I had all the questions I could come up with answered, but what about all the ones that would pop up after the fact?  The stories I’d half remember and want to ask her about?  She was the only person I could ask who could tell me about my grandmother’s childhood.

I just wanted more.  More time.  More chances to talk to her.

When I was little, there were three generations above me.  And from the time I was the twins’ age until this week, there were two generations.  And now there is only one generation above me.  The queue is always moving.

*******

My aunt was a fellow mother of twins.  When we first found out that we were having twins, I called her from my kitchen, my mother sitting next to me.  “Twins!” she screamed into the phone.  “Twins are the best.”  She was an effusive twin mum, who promised me that I would get through those early years because we all get through those early years even when it feels — in the moment — as if we won’t.  And she was right.  We got through the early years with the help of my parents just as she got through the early years of her twins with the help of her parents.

My great-grandmother — her mother — used to say, “two is not one.”  A simple phrase, not very profound on the surface, but it’s something my aunt gave me while the twins were still gestating that I repeat to myself sometimes when I’m doing things in duplicate.  One is not two, and two is not one.  I shouldn’t look at twin parenting in the same way one looks at singleton parenting.  It’s its own entity, and she gave me permission — no, she gave me an order — to always remember that and to treat what I have accordingly.  And it’s served me well, both in getting me through a hard night with two babies crying as I think that two indeed is not one, and it’s gotten me through some sensitive spots when I think about how I need to navigate two unique individual’s feelings.

*******

My aunt sometimes lied to me about the vegetarian state of a dish.  The women in my family have a difficult time admitting that chicken stock is from an animal.  She didn’t agree with all of my life choices.  But she was kind and she loved me.  She always took me in when I needed a space.

Before she had her own granddaughters, and she would beg me to wear dresses, to let her play with my hair.  One night, when we were little, my sister and I were sleeping over at her house, and after I had been in bed for a bit, she came in the room and woke me up, whispering, “do you want me to brush your hair?”  I didn’t want her to brush my hair — you don’t brush curly, Mediterranean hair.  I mean, really, I don’t own a brush.  But my mother had told me to let her brush my hair because it meant so much to her.  So I sat up in the dark and let her brush my hair.  It was probably only 9 pm, but it was dark out, and to a child, that is the middle of the night.  So she brushed my hair, telling me that she was making it perfect for the next day.  Then she put me back to sleep with my halo of hair that now resembled the texture of shredded wheat.

I realized after it was too late this week that I never got to tell her that I now understood that moment; that while it was different — the longing for a child vs. the longing for a female child — I understood what it was like to borrow someone for a moment; to pretend for a few minutes that they are your very own.  That I’ve often thought about my tangle of hair in her brush, especially when I need the kids and slip into their room after bedtime to see if they’re still awake.

I’m glad that she got daughters in the women her sons married.  She had so many female grandchildren by the time everyone was done building their families.  But I wish I had told her that I remembered the hair brushing; when she gathered my hair in a low ponytail and tugged my thick hair through the teeth.

*******

I am obviously writing this for me since you don’t know my aunt.  But if the world feels a little off today, it’s because this person who meant so much to me is no longer in it.  And it feels like everything is shifting; like the ground in an earthquake.  My family, shaking out, learning their new roles, their new places.

65 comments

1 Katherine A { 02.02.14 at 7:49 am }

I’m sorry for your loss. Thinking of you and your family.

2 Marianne { 02.02.14 at 8:30 am }

So sorry for your loss. She sounds like a great woman.

3 Catwoman73 { 02.02.14 at 8:32 am }

I’m so sorry, Mel. Wishing you and your family peace during this difficult time.

4 gwinne { 02.02.14 at 8:56 am }

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear this. Thinking of your family.

5 L { 02.02.14 at 9:14 am }

So sorry for your loss.
This is a beautiful tribute; you make the reader feel loss as well.
When my grandmother died, I and a couple cousins were cleaning up the kitchen, our parents chatting in the living room. Suddenly one of my cousins turned to us, wide-eyed and said “Oh, my God! WE’RE the grownups now!” Yes, the queue moves on.

6 Rach { 02.02.14 at 9:21 am }

So sorry for your loss. Someone once told me it’s hurts less to lose someone older because they’ve lived a full life. And I believed them until I lost my gran who, at 91 years old, had certainly lived a full life…and yet it still broke my heart. That’s when I realized it’s not the age of the person that deciphers loss, it’s the place they hold in the world. I’m certain that the world is a little bit off today, trying to shift and fill the void of your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

7 anexpatinuk { 02.02.14 at 9:51 am }

I’m so sorry for your loss. This was beautifully written about her and family generations.

8 Leah { 02.02.14 at 10:14 am }

Mel, my condolences. I think death, even the kind known and expected, reminds us to make the most of what time we have to ask about those stories and tell our loved ones what they mean to us. Maybe you didn’t get a chance to tell your aunt your thoughts and memories of her tenderness, but it sounds like she loved you very much and knew she was loved in return by you and your children. I was thinking about the queue section–I lost my grandmother 2 years ago, and she was the last of her generation. And now I look at my parents and watch especially my dad’s deterioration (Alzheimer’s). And I panic. No buffer zone, as silly as that sounds, to protect him. I don’t mind growing older, but it hurts my heart to think of life without them. I am so sorry for your loss.

9 Northern Star { 02.02.14 at 10:43 am }

What a beautiful post Mel. I’m so sorry about your aunt – take care over the next little while. Hugs.

10 Kasey { 02.02.14 at 11:14 am }

Hugs to you and your family! I am so sorry to hear about your loss!

11 loribeth { 02.02.14 at 11:45 am }

So sorry for your loss, Mel. 🙁 (((hugs))) I have no great-aunts or uncles left either, and my life is poorer for their absence. I still have all my aunts & uncles (my parents’ brothers & sisters), but several of them are in their 80s now, and my parents are in their mid-70s. I can hear the clock ticking every time we are together.

12 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 02.02.14 at 11:50 am }

I had this very same feeling when my aunt – my mother’s sister – died: the shaking out of roles in our family. And I didn’t realize until she was gone how much my aunt anchored my childhood.

It is so hard to be untethered.

I am sorry for your loss. Hugs and love to you all.

xoxo

13 Geochick { 02.02.14 at 12:12 pm }

I’m sorry for your loss. And I’m sorry you and ChickieNob learned via text message.

14 Kacey { 02.02.14 at 12:43 pm }

So sorry for your loss.

15 Christine { 02.02.14 at 12:45 pm }

I’m so sorry for your loss. But what a lovely story. And how wonderful to have the recording of her family stories.

And I had to laugh at the line about chicken stock.

16 A.M.S. { 02.02.14 at 12:55 pm }

Abiding with you, today, and holding you in our hearts as you move through this. Much love to all of you.

17 jodifur { 02.02.14 at 1:13 pm }

I am so, so sorry for your loss.

18 Delenn { 02.02.14 at 1:35 pm }

So sorry for your loss and your family’s loss. What wonderful memories.

19 luna { 02.02.14 at 1:42 pm }

so sorry for your loss, melissa. grief really does shatter and scatter. so hard to feel untethered from that connection. sending love to your whole family. xo

20 Astral { 02.02.14 at 1:46 pm }

I am so sorry for your loss. This was beautifully written and I’m glad you have memories of her and her stories to hold in your heart.

21 Cherish { 02.02.14 at 1:59 pm }

That was a lovely post. I’m sorry for your loss and sorry for the timing of the news. I struggle with death. While I believe I’ll see my loved ones again, I miss them NOW.

22 April { 02.02.14 at 2:08 pm }

I am so sorry for your loss Mel. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

23 a { 02.02.14 at 2:31 pm }

I’m very sorry for your loss – and it is tough to watch access to history pass on with no way of retrieving a particular perspective.

(Side note: Does it bother you that your child is reading your phone messages? Because it bugs the &*^#(*&# out of me, precisely for reasons like this – some news I should be the one getting first.)

24 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.02.14 at 2:41 pm }

I can tell how much your aunt was loved. What a touching post to her, especially the hairbrushing (shredded wheat notwithstanding).

I know what you mean about the queue. That’s party why my MIL’s death was so impactful.

Love to you.

25 Síochána Arandomhan { 02.02.14 at 2:47 pm }

I am so sorry for your loss Mel. This was a beautiful post and I believe it does convey some of your aunt’s essence. Wishing much love and comfort to you and your family.

26 Kristin { 02.02.14 at 2:58 pm }

What a beautiful tribute to your aunt. Abiding with you while you mourn her loss.

27 Laurel Regan { 02.02.14 at 3:08 pm }

My thoughts are with you and your family, Mel. So very sorry for the loss of your aunt – sounds like she was a wonderful woman. I know you will miss her.

28 Kathy { 02.02.14 at 3:26 pm }

I am so sorry for the loss of your aunt, Mel. I remember that feeling of having less generations in our family and it’s hard. I was close to my grandmother’s sister and after my grandma died in 2000, loved talking to my aunt, as they sounded similar, among other reasons (we were both younger sisters). Anyway, thank you for sharing your memories and feeling for you. I hope it was therapeutic. Abiding with you as you adjust to your new normal, with your aunt no longer in it, at least in a living sense. How precious that your daughter thought to interview her. Sending you so much love, thoughts and prayers as you grieve. xoxo

29 JustHeather { 02.02.14 at 4:27 pm }

I’m so sorry for you and your family’s loss, Mel. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us. I was right along the journey with you, thinking of my own loss and family while reading.

30 It Is What It Is { 02.02.14 at 4:33 pm }

I am sorry for the loss to your family of your beloved aunt. It is heartwarming the memories of her that you’ve etched into your experience in this life.

Sending comforting thoughts your way. {{{{hugs}}}}

31 StacieT { 02.02.14 at 4:51 pm }

So sorry for the loss of your aunt, Mel. Many hugs to you. My thoughts are with you and your entire family.

32 Davidah { 02.02.14 at 5:08 pm }

I’m sorry for your loss. May her memory always be for a blessing for you and your family.

33 Mrs T (missohkay) { 02.02.14 at 5:52 pm }

I am so sorry for your loss. The line “the queue is always moving” really spoke to me.

34 Jamie { 02.02.14 at 6:40 pm }

What a gift your daughter gave to your loved ones by collecting those stories. What a gift you gave to your aunt in those moments while she brushed your hair. I am very sorry for your family’s loss.

35 Pam/wordgirl { 02.02.14 at 7:02 pm }

My love to you and yours Mel,

I marvel at the matrix of family you have nurtured for your children. It comes through so clearly how profoundly important it is. Thinking of you,

Pam

36 tigger62077 { 02.02.14 at 7:02 pm }

Loss sucks. A lot. There’s never enough time and we always feel like there will be but there just never is. I think we could have an eternity with people in our physical lives and when they were gone, there still wouldn’t have been enough time. I’m very very sorry that this has happened to you. Finding one’s new role after a loss is hella hard.

37 Mali { 02.02.14 at 8:28 pm }

I’m so sorry. Your aunt would have been so honoured by your post. And how wonderful that ChickieNob has a tape to help you all remember her by too.

I can tell you that there are always questions left unanswered. There’s never enough time to say everything you want, not really, not in hindsight. But if at the time, they know they were loved and valued (and it sounds like your aunt knew that), then I think that is enough.

38 Alexicographer { 02.02.14 at 9:58 pm }

Oh, Mel, I’m sorry. For your loss and about how ChickieNob and you found out.

39 Alisa Winslow { 02.02.14 at 10:32 pm }

Beautifully written. Sorry for your loss. We are listening.

40 Claire { 02.02.14 at 10:32 pm }

What a beautiful post. I think it’s for everyone, not just you. Loss is universal and we recognize our own experiences even in your discrete details. My sympathies to you on the loss if this wonderful woman and the end of a generation. As a fellow vegetarian I loved the bit about chicken stock! I think it’s taken the general public years to figure out that chicken is not a vegetable. Big hugs!

41 Sara { 02.02.14 at 11:23 pm }

I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s pretty wonderful that ChickieNob thought to collect your aunt’s stories. What a great kid.

I laughed about the hair brushing, in the midst of the sadness. I have hair that doesn’t take kindly to brushing either. I’m glad you let her brush it anyway.

42 Elizabeth { 02.03.14 at 9:23 am }

Mel, I’m so sorry for your and your family’s loss. I can feel the great hole your aunt’s passing has left in your collective life.

43 Rachel { 02.03.14 at 12:29 pm }

May her memory always be a blessing…xoxo

44 magpie { 02.03.14 at 1:02 pm }

so moving, mel. also, i love your line “the queue is always moving” – i know well that feeling.

love to you.

45 Brianna { 02.03.14 at 1:07 pm }

Oh…I’m so sorry. Not only for you in losing your aunt, but also that ChickieNob was the one who intercepted the text 🙁

46 Heather { 02.03.14 at 1:39 pm }

Mel, I’m sorry for your loss. Your Aunt will always be with you in your memories.

47 meghan { 02.03.14 at 2:23 pm }

I’m so sorry for your loss. I completely get what you mean about the world feeling off…I still feel that way after the death of my aunt over a year ago. Big hugs to you and your family

48 Dora { 02.03.14 at 8:54 pm }

So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing a bit of her in this lovely post. xo

49 kateanon { 02.03.14 at 9:36 pm }

Having lost my aunt last year, there is a huge place where she should be in my heart. I feel for you and I’m sorry for your loss.

50 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 02.04.14 at 5:48 am }

I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your Aunt. This post is not only a beautiful tribute, it’s also wonderfully expressive of your own response.

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