Just as our Christmas festivities were coming to an end, our family received the phone call letting us know that the last of my mother's siblings had passed.
As the news was told to family, we had our sad moment ---- but with "this generation" having never met her, the collective sadness was brief, and they were on to other things, and we, distracted, were as well.
My sister and I waited until my brother and his family left to fly to Connecticut to share the rest of the holidays with his wife's family before we packed a bag and drove to Virginia to see to the arrangements for her interment.
The thought of just directing a funeral home to "put her in the ground" seemed callous -- even if we hadn't seen Aunt Lois in years, she was my mother's sister, the sister they had all worried about who would care for after they died, the sister my dad said "would out live them all."
Daddy was right. He was right most of the time.
My Aunt Lois was 90 -- she had just turned that age on Dec. 15.
I hadn't seen her in over twenty-five years as she had retreated from the family circle and moved to the outside, residing in group homes, taking small jobs as a companion, and then finally living in a care facility run by the Virginia Veterans' administration. Fifteen years ago, we called her to let her know of my mother's death and then sixty two days later, my dad's. She received the news and asked for few details.
As a W.A.V.E. in WW II, she served her country, but when she returned from that war -- something was different. She had changed, and the rest of her life she would spend unable to live by herself or maintain more than menial jobs. Not that there is no dignity in that -- it was just that my mother and her sisters had concerns about Lois.
In the early 1950s, my grandmother would make several bus trips to "rescue" Lois who had wild ideas about moving to California or Colorado or Nevada, leaving her home with little money in her pocket and calling from a pay phone from some where needing "help."
They worried about Lois.
When I visited my aunts and grand-parents in Virginia as a child, Lois was my primary baby-sitter. She tried to teach me to paint, to play the piano, to think about being a vegetarian (way before it was cool), and she wished me to be "good" to my mother, her closest sister in age.
When my mother first went back to full time work when I went to kindergarten, Lois lived with us here in Atlanta and helped my mother care for four, young children with two working parents, but I barely remember it.
What I do remember about Lois is that she washed dishes, cut radishes and cucumbers for salads, swept the floors, and took long walks up and down the street where they lived. I also remember that she talked loudly, a reciprocal effect of having to communicate with her deaf father, whom she cared for in his last years.
The photos we have of her -- she seems to be behind the scenes, ducked into the shadows, unsmiling. She was kind. She was caring, but she was different.
She was my mother's sister -- and the last of her siblings to die.
I sat at the graveside service for her last Thursday in this little country church yard in Appomattox, Virginia, the church my mother's family attended, the church where my parents were married; I looked at her gray casket draped with an American flag, the wind lifting the corners, and I thought -- "why is this so moving?"
My sister and I and the ordained minister, provided by the funeral parlor, and two other funeral parlor directors were the only ones present. The two gravediggers helped carry her casket to the platform above the burial vault; no pall bearers, no "old" friends, only her two nieces in attendance.
The minister did not know her -- he did not know how to eulogize her, but he read good scripture, praised her veteran status, and gave it his all. He brought along a "ghetto blaster" where after he had his words, played "Amazing Grace" and "Taps."
I noted the beauty in the scene -- yes, I said beauty.
As these words of "Amazing Grace" were sung, "Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease/ I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace...," the tears slid down my cheeks.
I cried for all of them -- my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles ----my Aunt Lois who was the last of them -- the last of them all.
The service on that quiet country road, in that old churchyard, with the cold wind rustling the surrounding evergreens, the patches of snow on the ground -- it was sad in a lovely way.
As we departed the service, the man who drove the hearse to pick up the body stopped my sister and me. He said, "when I arrived to pick her up, many people who worked in that care facility were gathered around her, some with their hands touching her, some tearful. One of them, an elderly black woman, touched her face and whispered 'bye, Miss Lois, good -bye.' They loved her there."
My family had, in a way, said a type of "bye" to Lois a long time ago.
At her earthly end, I am glad that there were others who loved her to say "good-bye" again.