I just heard that my beloved great aunt passed away.
As many of you know, this is the tough part of long-distance. Jewish funerals are immediately after the death, so there's no way I can make it to the funeral. Whether or not I can make a shiva call - the Jewish post-funeral period of family visitation and mourning - I don't know.
Lillian was my grandmother's youngest sister, the last surviving of five siblings. She and I had a special relationship. We were "pen pals" (what an old expression!) when I was 8, 9, 10 years old, writing letters back and forth between Brooklyn and the New York suburbs.
And we stayed close over the years. It was just a special thing we had.
I find Lillian's death especially sad because in her last years, she was very depressed. She withdrew from everybody except her daughter and her sister Ida, with whom she lived at a senior home. When Ida died five years ago, Lillian withdrew from everybody. Allan and I used to visit them once or twice a year, but in recent years she refused to see us. We wanted to visit before we moved to Canada, but she wouldn't let us come out. I still called her and wrote to her. In fact, I just mailed a letter yesterday, one she'll never see.
She was 91. I'll miss her.
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This morning when I posted this, I was too sad to think of anything positive. A few hours later, plus a comment from a thoughtful friend, and I am remembering happy times with Aunt Lillian.
Lillian was a creative, artistic person. She would have liked the opportunity to go to art school when she was younger. As an adult, that wasn't something she would give to herself. She painted copies of famous paintings that she framed and hung in her home, joking that they were authentic fakes.
The creativity Lillian was best known for were her hand-made cards. For birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and any other special occasion, she would make her own cards. She'd cut out a cardboard square - my grandmother saved the cardboard that came in my grandfather's shirts from the laundry - and paint a little scene relevant to the occasion.
They were always humourous, full of inside jokes about the person. On my grandparents' anniversary, my grandmother, a neat freak, would be dusting my grandfather's head. There would be travel brochures on a table and suitcases by a door, since they traveled the world together.
Cards for me and Allan had dogs in them, and baseball caps, and maybe music playing, or we might be going to a club to hear music. My birthday cards often had me at a typewriter. My mother would be knitting.
These cards were always so clever and cute. We looked forward to seeing what she'd put on them every year.
I have at least a dozen of Aunt Lillian's cards, probably more, stowed in the shoeboxes that are the archives of my life. Here's one Allan found in a box. I think the wish refers to Allan's writing, trying to get wider recognition, and the double meaning of the dogs not being in their place - an ongoing issue she heard a lot about!
That's Gypsy and Clyde, our first two dogs. I think I'm yelling at the dogs! Not very nice!