I got a call from Momma this morning. I could tell she was in tears. She left a message and told me to call her or my brother Terry back. I called Terry because her line was busy, and I said, “What happened?” This year has been a tragic one for my family, particularly my Mother’s side.
We lost Aunt Rose to cancer after a long, long battle. My first cousin, Jerry, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident this summer. It’s getting scary now everytime the phone rings and a relative’s name populates on the Caller ID. Statistically, it’s not always going to be death announcement when they call me, but emotionally that’s what I’m always fearing, especially when the call comes before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night.
Terry said, “I don’t know. They think maybe it was a heart attack.” I’m like, “Who??? Terry, who died?” It was my Aunt Shirley, my Mother’s oldest sister, the matriarch of their remaining family.
I have nothing but great memories of Aunt Shirley. They had a camp down the street from my parent’s place in Pierre Part, LA. So, I would run into her every now and then when I was down visiting. The hard part about living away most of my life is that I don’t see extended family much. I get together with my immediate family as regularly as I can, but seeing extended family is much more difficult to do. In recent years, Aunt Shirley inspired me by “living her dream” and traveling and just having a ball with the other “widowwomen”, as Momma calls them. If I remember correctly, she even went to Italy in the last few years after my Uncle Cecil died.
My favorite memories of Uncle Cecil and Aunt Shirley are at their place on the Amite River. When I was small, they lived in Denham Springs but always loved the river. Their family was always the cool one that water skiied and had the older teenaged kids. There were four kids in their family, too. They moved to a house on the Amite River sometime in my pre-teen years. It was a beautiful house sitting back from the bank a little but close enough to get a view. There was a little beach, and we always hung out there. Aunt Shirley and Uncle Cecil knew how to have fun. They were always the ones throwing the party. We had countless family reunions in their yard with badminton and homemade ice cream. I can still hear Aunt Shirley’s laughter after the alcohol had started flowing on the adult side of the house. I can never remember having a dull time at Aunt Shirley’s house.
Aunt Shirley’s immediate family was gathered at her house this morning, doing the usual things that have to be done after a death. The kids that I knew are now grown and have kids and grandkids of their own. But, both of their parents are now gone. I can’t imagine what that is like. My cousin, Bonni, said Momma called to tell her the news. That surprised me. I guess I never thought about who would announce the deaths in a family once the parents are gone. Bonni, in her sweetness and grace, felt so bad for Momma because it must have been difficult to deliver that message to her sister’s daughter.
There have been three funerals in my family this year. I was not able to get away for the other two. Time will tell if I can make it to this one. Even though I’m not there, I know the scene. I know the faces. I know the ritual and how it will flow. The rituals are there for us, the survivors. The loved ones are gone and are in a better place. I imagine that Aunt Shirley and Uncle Cecil are somewhere among the stars catching up right now. I would imagine they are having a cocktail even if it is only noon. It’s time.