The End of a Formidable Life

Earlier this week, my Grand-Aunt Louise passed away on Staten Island, NY. She was 90 years old, and was a formidable human being. A trained opera singer standing at only 4-foot-10 (but as she got older, she got shorter, so later on she was probably only 4-foot-8 or so), she had a small body but a booming voice. You knew the instant she walked into the room, because the door would suddenly burst open and a wave of vibrancy would wash over everything. “HA-LO, HA-LO!” she would exclaim as she strutted proudly into the room, her hands raised in the air, usually carrying a bag full of candy or treats, or some other kind of gift. And when she greeted you, this was a distinctly Aunt Louise type thing, she would hold you close, press her cheek next to yours, and take a deep breath to make sure she took in your scent. To this day, this is still something I do with people I’m very close with, and how people smell is very intimate to me.

I grew up in Philadelphia, which was only a 2-hour drive away. Whenever we had break from school, we would drive up. As we got older those trips became less frequent. But we always went for Christmas. One of Aunt Louise’s favorite parts of Christmas was singing Christmas Carols. It was her time to take center stage, be the matriarch she truly was by telling everyone where to sit, and then show off her voice.

But she wasn’t just someone who liked to show off her talents. When you were with her 1-on-1, you knew you had her attention. I didn’t appreciate this until later in life, but it seemed that everything she did, every action she took, and every word she uttered, had a very focused intent behind it. There was no idle chit-chat and no meaningless smalltalk around her. Time was too precious to spend on these things. She was conducting the orchestra that was the entire family with every wave of her arm. Even something as simple as sitting down with us to eat watermelon seeds was completely, fully intentional, as she took that opportunity to tell us stories of how the family escaped China, or how my father worked so hard. So many lessons she had to teach us, and so little time.

[There’s a lot more to her life. If you want to know about all the amazing things she accomplished, and all the difficult times she faced, I’m totally open to telling you. Just reach out to me, you can schedule a call or just send me an email. I’m sure it’ll be therapeutic to me and aid me in my grieving process to tell people all about her.]

Now that time is up. Any further lessons she had to teach us are gone forever. My sister brought up a good point, that she was the one that held the East and West Coast sides of the family together. Who is going to do that now? She was the last and brightest beacon. I’m sure it will take some time for us to recover from this loss. There will be a time when we’re in our cocoons, tending to our grief. And then there will be a reshuffling of tasks and responsibilities. 

The family will come together again as others will pick up the dropped torch to make sure we all stay together. Maybe it won’t be a single person doing this. After all, Aunt Louise had a tremendous amount of energy, and an incomparable ability to make each moment count. It may take a few of us with the intention to hold things together. But it’ll happen.

For now, we cry, and we grieve. We can allow ourselves to remember the greatness that was there. The torch is on the ground, the light is not going out any time soon. We don’t need to rush it. Now is the time to make sure we are grounded and balanced in who we are for ourselves and for each other. 

It’s from that place of groundedness and balance that we realize how little time we really have left, and how we can infuse every moment with deeply meaningful intentionality. There is no gesture too small that moves us towards where we want to go, and there is no time for anything else. I think this is the final lesson that Aunt Louise had to teach us.