Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blast from the Past

When I said earlier that the death of my grandfather eighteen years ago was the saddest thing that ever happened to me, I was wrong in implying that nothing sadder ever happened in my life than the peaceful death of a happy old man. To be sure, six weeks after ole Pikey died, I watched my grandmother suffer and die a terrible death. The next year my great-grandfather died, followed closely by my great-grandmother. Months later my 28-year-old cousin dropped dead of a heart attack, and 18 months later his 33-year-old brother was gone, as well. The early nineties were filled with so much death and sadness that I was convinced that this is what the rest of my life would be like: marking the time between funerals and wondering, "Who on earth will be next?"

What made these subsequent tragedies different from the death of my grandfather was that I quickly got used to the routine, and learned a lot of tricks for "going numb". When my grandfather died I was innocent of the horror of grief. After that, it was a regular thing. And happily, one day I woke up and realized it had been three years since I'd been to a funeral. Then four. Etc.

One thing that helped was the new babies that were born in the family, and I learned that if you look at your young relatives from various angles, you can see your grandparents and great-grandparents reflected therein, kind of like a human hologram.

When my mother was 19, the day of her father's funeral, she was told that her father had another child, a little girl. Though she never knew the young girl's name, she spent her whole adult life knowing that somewhere out there she had a sister, and with no information we despaired of ever finding the girl.

This week, thanks to the wonder of the Internets and my awesome genealogy tricks, the long-lost sister has been found, and she's part of the family now.

Usually, when a new life enters the family it comes in a form something like this:

Wonderful as that is, it takes decades to find out what kind of person that relative will become.

This week, I got the rare experience of having a new family member, fully grown, already developed, a beautiful woman who, seen from certain angles, projects the living image of a grandfather I never got a chance to know. I'm so grateful to my new aunt, not just for being so kind to my mother and myself, but just for even existing.

It might be one of the happiest things to ever happen in my life.


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