A Whole Life Lived


My aunt Rita died today.

She was 93 and had  long and  well – a long life. She worked for herself, had few relationships with other human beings and died essentially estranged from most of her family.

This has made me ask the serious question of HOW a life becomes like this – isolated and alone and feeling unessential and not a part of the living world.

Aunt Rita’s  death was announced on Facebook. in a “status share” – just like that. There were no concerned calls of preparatory condolence or concern. Just a status posting on my cousin’s timeline with a really cool sharing of awesome family pictures.

I have wondered about her often over the years, always too scared to go see her. the reports of her disdain for other family members frightened me and I was unwilling I suppose to daunt my sparse but decent memories of her.

I know my mother really loved her, and that when she was pregnant with me, as a young unwed catholic teenager – aunt Rita took her in for a time and was very kind to her.  For a woman who didn’t have children of her own, and generally minded her own business this was a very compassionate act.

Aunt Rita to me never seemed very concerned with the opinion of anyone but my father really. She was quite happy to tell you off if you crossed her lines. She always seemed to be abit of a trailblazer and a rebel. Her sense of humour dry enough to snap a twig.

The pictures of my Aunt and family fascinated me and I stared at them for a very long time, as questions formulated in my mind.

I studied them and looked hard – to see the family i knew growing up in the small black and white children that lived in pictures in an era so long ago it seemed like still shots from Walton’s Mountain.

My grandmother was an amazing woman whom we all loved very much. She died at 96 from a very satisfying life – less than a yea after my Father died saying “no mother should have to bury her children”. We agreed. She was an incredible pioneering woman – always loving and open dawning a constant no nonsense positive attitude full of good advice,  never to be messed with, best maker of vanilla cookies ever. I named my youngest daughter’s middle name after her – Emilienne.

That’s Auntie Rita sitting on Grandpa’s lap.  She had these awesome clear blue eyes like my dad, so even in her pictures as a really young girl you can tell who she is from her other sister siblings.

My dad – that is my biological grandfather who adopted me when I was a baby so I knew him as my dad – is the only boy in the picture other than Grandpa.  You may have to look carefully – he was sporting quite a flowing mane in those days.

(I wish he was still around so I could make fun of him actually.)

As I began to scroll down the page Rita’s life emerged in front of me.  From an adorable baby, to a little girl who was obviously enamored with her older brother.

The photos reveal Rita as a slightly inhibited by the big world, but adventurous enough to go it with a friend. I love this picture. Her smiling eyes and her motion of determined forward action – she was goign somewhere and there was no way she could ever hide her glorious excitement. Little kid joy. What a wonderful feeling.

Not surprisingly it is my father holding her back.  This was probably his role allot.  She would barrel forward and he would be mindful of her safety.


The question emerged as I went through the pictures –

How do you go form being a curious, beautiful full of joy little kid then an amazing trailblazing rebellious beautiful woman, to an angry sad resentful distanced adult – senior and eventually memory.

how does life unravel itself like this for someone?


Aunt Rita was married twice. The rumours in the family were that her first husband was an abusive alcoholic.  I always thought she was brave for getting out and finding someone she loved. Uncle Joe was incredibly cool, gentle sweet and funny.  He was Irish with a little crop top navy head of grey hair. At Christmas and other family functions,  he always stood beside me and said funny jokes or quippy comments about whatever family member would be regaling us with their stories at the time to keep me from getting bored. Things like:

“Eh Josie – that’s quite a head of hair she’s got there hmm?…” HGe would say in his soft Irish brogue, then look at me with his twinkly smiling eyes and laugh, the eternal beer clutched in his right fist, me stifling a giggle.

Uncle Joe was great.  He drove a ’57 Chevy allot like this one and took me for rides. Image result for 1957 chevy

But after Uncle Joe died, it seems like Aunt Rita stopped coming to family things mostly all together.  Not that I could blame her. Our family seems to go through giant waves of shit, and at that time, we experienced a rash of deaths one after another. So mostly the “family events” were all reduced to funerals.  Weddings were a little less frequent and allot less eventful now that the majority of the drinkers in our family had gotten sober. So we really didn’t see aunt Rita very much at all in the past 15 years or so.

The news in the family was that maybe she had developed dementia because she had become incredibly cruel in some of the things she had said to people.

However, my quiet and unexpressed estimation is that if she didn’t like you or you did something to piss her off, given the opportunity to express that feeling to them, she would take it.  That would be more like Rita.  In your face honest. You couldn’t fault her for her forthrightness.  Her “No bullshit” attitude was what my mother had always said she loved about her.   There was not a deceptive bone in her body, and I can really appreciate such a rare quality in a person.

Watching aunt Rita’s life unfold and through these pictures gave me a chance to reflect on the entirety of a life with a somewhat distanced view. It allowed me to ask some really fundamental questions.

What happens to a person’s curiosity and bliss as they leave childhood to teenage hood, young adulthood, early middle and late adulthood, senior ages?

Here, and maybe its just the pose, but Rita seems more pensive, quiet – introspective. the fire of her youthful eyes has dimmed slightly. Maybe she locks a little unconcerned even – her shoulders hunched  slightly inwards tells me she is closed in the area of her heart – seeks to protect herself emotionally. Am I over-analyzing or is this not the same energy as the little girl in the pictures.

More questions emerge:

So, what happens after your beauty fades? Your purpose disappears? Your partner dies? What happens when your physical identification with yourself, how you look, what you do, and who you do it with, fades?

From a defiant curious adventurous joyful little kid




A whole life lived! 93 years Aunty Rita – thank you for the scratchy woolen slippers at Christmas. I hope you find uncle Joe really fast. Please say hi to dad and grandma, grandpa,  and mom and – ok well everyone.

I hope you found your happy little kid feeling again.

Peace and Love







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