February 16, 2017

My aunt passed on the morning of February 10, 2017. My father’s sister. Her two sons, my cousins, are stacked between my brother and I by age: cousin, me, cousin, brother. As adults, we share a sense of humor, politics, ideas about faith, and hopes for the future. My aunt and her brother did not share the same type of relationship. They disagreed about nearly everything, and they mostly didn’t treat each other with kindness, though sometimes they did. My aunt gave me my grandmother’s pearls to wear in my wedding last year. I stopped talking to her after the election.

Not only did I stop talking to her, but she offered an olive branch and I rejected it. Did it matter that she had stopped talking to my mother? Absolutely not. We were all adults, and adults define their own relationships with each other. My aunt’s passing was so sudden that I wouldn’t have had a chance to say goodbye, and it’s the height of vanity to assume she was thinking about me in her last days. Still, she died and we hadn’t spoken for months. I rejected her and she died. Maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way — maybe it shouldn’t have. But, still, I’ll never get to undo that rejection.

Kindness as a concept is the closest thing I have to religion. Any religion can and will be sinned against. I am a sinner.

The visitation was four days later, the funeral the day after that. This was my first open casket, and I had to keep reminding myself that my aunt was both there and not there. Her grandson, the light of her life, was as self-involved and insatiable as all two-year-olds. He was a blessing, a ray of sunshine. His running, his playing, his appetite, his giggles were a kindness to his father, his grandfather, his uncle, and my father.

My aunt was buried with the ashes of all the dogs she’s loved. She was buried in a button-up shirt covered in Boston Terrier embroidery. She was a loving wife, a devoted mother and grandmother, a successful business-woman, and a friend to so many. Her sons and her brother will have hard days ahead of them, and I will try to be kind.

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