Our aunt died on Easter Sunday, at 96.
When she was in her early 80’s, Angela would take a couple of buses through Queens, all kinds of weather, to visit my mom at home, in the hospital, in the nursing home.
Technically, she was not our aunt but a vibrant young woman from central Pennsylvania who married into the clan which is like family to us.
“She and Mom called each other ‘forever friends,’” my sister Janet said the other day.
Angela came into our lives right after the war, when she and Joe McGuinness were courting. For a time, she stayed at our house, going to work every weekday at the home base of Horn & Hardart – the Automat, where patrons dropped nickels into a slot to buy lunch. She worked in the office, and escorted me into the kitchen to watch the workers fill the shelves with sandwiches and pies.
One time she and Joe took me to Radio City Music Hall for a Doris Day movie and the stage show. I still remember the Rockettes dancing to the song, “Red Silk Stockings and Green Perfume,” which came out in 1947. They were young, and handsome, and in love, and it was very cool to be with them.
She and Joe settled in Queens, raising three children of their own, but always had time for the five of us. Each of us has stories about their kindness, their advice, how they were there for us.
In the past decade, Angela went to live with her daughter, Kathleen, in Oklahoma. My brothers and sisters who visited her in the nursing home out there described her tootling down the hall in a powered wheelchair, about to run a meeting on current events, still the life of the party, almost until the end. I can hear my siblings asking, “Whom can we call now?”
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023