My aunt died a few weeks ago. She had been in the memory unit of an assisted living facility, and for months, wavered between being alert and hallucinating. She died quietly, lying down after a meal, and passing away.
My aunt had been angry. Angry at her fate. Angry at being in a facility. Angry at being surrounded by strangers who she fervently believed lied to her constantly, mocked her, and stole from her. Her death was a blessing that freed her from a body and a life that had betrayed her.
My mother invited her five children and their spouses to my parent’s home for a family memorial service this weekend. My brother and I arrived a day before everyone else. After breakfast yesterday morning my mother wanted to go through my aunt’s remaining things.
My aunt was a collector and a hoarder. The majority of her things had been sold or given away months ago when my mother shut down my aunt’s apartment. But my mother had kept a number of things and brought them to her home.
Yesterday morning my mother pulled out five large bags of items and insisted on going piece by piece, making decisions about each piece.
My aunt had collections of everything: sterling silver frames, American Indian jewelry, strands of pearls, (mostly in need of repair), lots of earrings and broaches, and on and on. All of these things my aunt stored in hundreds of zip-lock plastic bags. As a hoarder, she would buy the same thing over and over again. For example, she had about ten Indian jewelry bracelets all very similar in look and size. She collected about twenty-five antique sterling silver picture frames which she kept in an old suitcase. Long gone are the hundreds of couture dresses bought at thrift shops and fine home sales, all very similar in design.
As my mother went through each item, one by one, some pieces were targeted for her daughters, some were targeted for her sons and grandchildren, and some items that were fine, but dated, would be sold. My aunt collected older Judith Leiber belts, which she had many of, and my mother planned to donate them to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. A few items my mother would keep.
Each item was gone over and over again as my mother mused what to do. The majority of the jewelry was inexpensive costume jewelry. It was a torturous process.
Today the rest of the family arrived and the remaining silver picture frames, silk and wool scarves, jewelry, earnings, etc were gone through by the women and each took their favorite pieces to remember my aunt by.
After breakfast, we sat in my parent’s living room, and each of us sharing our memories of my aunt. It was a lovely time with each family member telling their particular memories of my fun, quirky, smart, funny aunt. Then we took my aunt’s ashes to a local stream and each sibling and my mother took a scoop of ashes and threw them into the stream. And then it was over.
Relatives began to head out. The house got quieter. Just my sister and my parents remained for one more evening. Tomorrow my sister and I head back to our own lives in different cities. And life goes on.