My great-aunt Rita passed away on Good Friday.
She died a week after having emergency surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, but her health had been deteriorating since her 80th birthday this January – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure the chief culprits.
For me, Rita’s death packed two punches.
First, I lost the saucy, bossy and loving lady I’ve lived with for the past 11 months.
When I graduated from college, Rita allowed me to move into one of her spare bedrooms so that I could save some money.
At first, we were both relatively independent: I was often working or hanging out with friends. She lunched with the ladies and headed up north to spend weekends at a family cabin.
Several months ago, she became more homebound and increasingly glad that I was sleeping in the room next door. I think it gave her comfort to know that someone was there, watching out for her.
I, with other family members, became in charge of keeping the household well stocked and running smoothly, and she really hated for anyone else to be in charge.
I’m a Costco-aholic, and she would groan every time I’d enter the condo with six tubes of toothpaste or a giant pack of Kleenex.
As my fiancé Matt and I packed up the Christmas decorations this year, she watched us like a hawk, telling us which way to tape up the boxes and how to label everything very specifically.
When Matt and I decided to carry the boxes downstairs rather than wheel them into the elevator, she quipped, “I wonder why the ancient Egyptians invented the cart,” and dismissed us with an eye roll.
The woman had opinions about everything and liked to let them be known. She knew just how to get under my skin.
Whenever Matt and I prepared dinner, Rita would shout from her living room chair which pots and pans we should use.
At age 23, finally feeling like an independent young woman, I didn’t take too kindly to being told what to do. I would complain about how frustrating it could be to live with Rita to my friends and parents.
I so often wished that I had my own place, but though there are definite perks to living alone, it feels empty in the condo without Rita’s big spirit and big opinions.
She will be deeply missed by her family and many friends, some of whom she’s had for 70 years.
The second blow her funeral delivered was the realization that in saying goodbye to Rita, my family said goodbye to an entire generation.
On both sides of my family, my parents and aunts and uncles are now the oldest.
I’ve been to my fair share of funerals in the last five years, and I’m not ready to face the next round of grief and sorrow.
My mother’s cousins worry that our family may not get together much anymore now that we don’t have the matriarch holding things together. Things will be different, I’m sure.
Though the loss of Rita’s entire generation is hard to swallow, it’s also an absolute joy to imagine Rita and her siblings together again, she and her husband in one another’s arms.
She’s pain free and no longer suffering.
For my family, the timing of her death was a blessing. Scripture read at Good Friday and Easter services helped us process her loss.
Hospital staff taped a butterfly to her door when she passed away – a beautiful symbol of her new life.
We’ve mourned Rita’s death, but now it’s time to celebrate her new life. It’s Easter.
Olivia Koester can be reached at [email protected]