I came across a card from my late aunt the other day. At first glance, it’s nothing extraordinary. But I’ve kept it for more than 10 years for reasons that are complicated to explain.
Written on both sides of a small, blank greeting card with an image of a flower on the front, the card contains some standard pleasantries, and a request. My aunt knew I enjoyed shopping at thrift stores, and wanted me to look for something for her. She wrote that a smock, with pockets, would be useful to her when she was gardening, and if it wasn’t too much trouble, she would appreciate it if I would keep my eye out.
My aunt died a few months later. She never got her smock.
Truth be told, I don’t think I ever really looked for one. I’m sure I went to a few thrift stores in between the time she sent her card, and when she died. But I don’t remember ever actually thinking of her, of taking the time to do what she had asked. And every time I see the pale yellow flower on the front of that greeting card, I am overwhelmed with shame and guilt.
I am sure my aunt did not go to her grave thinking, “I wish Emily had bought me that smock.” I’m sure she had more important things on her mind. And yet, this unfinished task rankles, if only because it can never be completed.
Had she lived, my aunt would have celebrated her 69th birthday earlier this month. But she will never be 69. Instead, she died 11 years ago, and is stuck in time forever as a 58-year-old.
My grandparents died when I was in elementary school. Their death was sudden and shocking and I remember, somewhere amid my own grief, realizing with horror that my father was now an orphan. The thought was so appalling to me that I tried to push it away. But when my aunt, and years later my uncle, died as well, I was painfully aware that my father, who was the youngest of the three siblings, had become the oldest member of his family.