My Aunt Virginia passed away a week ago today. We’ve lost three family members in less than a year, and it’s hard. We have our memories, but we would rather have the people. For me, when I think about each one of them, specific things come to mind.
With my Aunt Carine, I can see her motions. I can see her walking around the house, and sitting with one leg tucked beneath her, and the way she passed bowls of food at dinner. I can see the movements of her arms and hands. But mostly I hear her voice. She had a nice voice and a gentle way of speaking. I can see her sitting across the living room from me during Bible study, talking something out with me, explaining, examining. I so wish I could have all those words back and hear all those talks again. But she was someone who used your name a lot, and at least I can still hear her saying, “You know, Michelle…” I can still hear the way she said my name.
Have you ever noticed that some people have a special way of saying your name? Maybe it’s the tone of their voice or their inflection or their accent or simply that it’s the voice of someone you care about. Or maybe it’s just that some people fill up your name with so much stuff! With love and memories and compassion and humor and I don’t know what. But somehow they pack it all in there, into that one word, a word that not only belongs to you but somehow is you.
With my cousin Brandon, I see him playing guitar. Not talking, not looking up, just playing. I had a hard time getting him to talk to me; he’d say as few words as he could get away with and then close himself up with a little smile. I can picture that smile and his head tilted down and just a bit to the side. But his eyes are smiling up at me, telling me there are a multitude of things going on in his head that I’m just not gonna be privy to. I knew who he was with his family and friends, had witnessed the gregarious Brandon. But we weren’t close enough for him to be that person with me, and that’s okay.
That smile of Brandon’s always reminded me of my cousin Joey. Joey had that same kind of smile, and I always had the feeling that somehow he was teasing me behind it. Like he knew things about me that I didn’t know myself, and he was thinking, “you’ll figure it all out eventually.”
Now, with my Aunt Virginia, I hear her laugh. It was more of a chuckle, I guess, a quiet kind of laugh. I see her smiling and laughing a lot, and how her face would kind of open up when she laughed. And I haven’t put on a pair of earrings since I was about 13 without thinking of her. When she saw me putting them on by feel, she thought it was just so clever. She was laughing then, too. We were in the stairwell outside of my family’s apartment door. “You can do that without looking!?” She said she couldn’t do that without a mirror, and she laughed.
Now why should that little moment stick with me so long? I don’t know why, but it has. And I can hear her saying, “love you”. Whether we were leaving big family gatherings or little visits, she’d always say that.