Both of my parents remarried the year I turned 10, and our family spread across the land with Dad and Helene in Fargo, and Mom and Rob at our new full-time home in Bellingham. She was the first person I met, the first friend we had. Four or five houses down, we spent hours after school and in summers running around, visiting the neighbor who would always give us candy, creating adventures in her mom's quilting studio, and throwing an enormous orange buoy for her dog in the front yard. Time went by, and I watched her grow up beside my little sister, watched her turn into a beautiful, interesting woman. I was in a hotel when my sister called to tell me that one of her best friends had breast cancer. It was bad. I cried as I googled and lost my breath and the 5 year survival rate - only 20%. Nothing prepares you. Nothing CAN prepare you for the heartache and helplessness of losing such a beautiful, interesting friend. For caring, but not being a part of their inner circle or support system. For hoping that somehow, whatever prayers make it past the sobs somehow send some positive energy into the universe. She threw tea parties for her friends, with Alice in Wonderland themes. She baked the most beautiful things, cookies that looked straight out of Martha's oven. She raised money for Planned Parenthood and she was mother to a beautiful son the same age as Sam. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I hope that she knew how much I loved her, and how I admired that even in her last years when she knew the end was coming, she kept creating and putting something positive into the world.
My grandmother was gone, and then she was really gone. Last time I saw her was in 2005 when I visited. She loved the kids, but she didn't really know who any of us were. It was still nice to see her smile. When my parents were young, and I was a baby, we lived in her house for a while. I don't remember, but my Mom does. She has talked to me about how supportive my Grandmother was. When I was a kid, we visited her at her house in Havertown and at the one in Ocean City. In the summer, she would boil hot dogs then put them into a bun and wrap it in foil for a beach day lunch. The buns would get soggy but after spending hours in the salty surf, they were so good. She was smart and sold houses for a living. She was funny too, and we laughed together often. I don't know what to believe, but I hope that she is reunited with her husband, and with the granddaughters she grieved so much, in her great beyond. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I hope that she knew how much I loved her, and how much we all missed her, and will miss her.
I am not exaggerating when I say that she touched, and probably changed, thousands of lives. She was the kind of teacher who kids remember long into adulthood, which is evidenced by the number of us at her funeral. She taught us responsibility and integrity, and she didn't let us off the hook. She had a laugh that would light up a room, and she was a role model for so many of us. She was passionate, strong, powerful, and didn't take any crap from anybody. I last saw her a few years ago at her retirement celebration, which was like a mini high school reunion for Eagle Eye staffers and yearbook kids. She was happy. She kept up with students on Facebook and it was beautiful to see the messages we all left when she was gone. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I know that she knew how much we loved her, and that she made the world so much a better place by being in it.
Going through your parents divorcing can be some pretty rough stuff. It changes you, and affects you in so many ways, weaving tentacles throughout the rest of our lives. Some are hard, and may require therapy, but others... others are exactly the opposite. Blessings in the form of adventures and especially in the family that you might acquire. Through my parents divorce and subsequent remarriages, I have become wealthy in family friends and exceptional relatives I am glad to have in my life. She was one of them. We always called her Aunt, even though she was technically a Great Aunt to me. She never married, and spent her younger years as a nurse in the Army and had a pretty accomplished career. I wish I had known her better, I wish I had talked to her about her time as the chief obstetrics nurse and heard stories from her career. I wish I'd gotten to know her more as an adult. It's hard being so far from family sometimes. She was a strong, smart woman, who made a life for herself. I always liked her, even when I was very young - there was just something about her. The last time I saw her was the same visit during which I saw my grandmother - we swam in the pool and tried to pet her elusive cats. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I hope that somehow she knows that I thought of her often, and that I loved her.
His smile fills my memories of Christmases and visits to Ocean City. His laugh, the way he brought joy into a room, the way he cared for his nieces and nephews and children, big and fierce. He was always one of my favorites, and I think it was partially because of the way I felt at ease around him. Things changed and he wasn't around as much. I missed him. I tried to send cards but I failed as often as I succeeded with tracking down new addresses and getting them out. I don't remember the last time I saw him, and that makes me really sad. He was not old enough to go. One of the hardest things about living so far from family is not being able to attend memorials and hear all of the wonderful things people say, and to be able to pray and help put my loved ones to rest. I think the world will miss him, because the hole he's left is big. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I hope he knew that he never stopped being family to me, that I loved him, and that I'm really sad that he's gone.
Five is too many.