I’m running out of aunts and uncles. Last week my beautiful, brave Aunt Ilse died. Now I’m down to one aunt and one uncle. Plus another aunt who is really my first cousin once removed. Somehow, while I was mooning over all my cousins’ children’s babies wishing I could hold a grandbaby of my own, I hadn’t noticed the shifting of our family tree.
It used to be there were enough of them to fill every holiday, enough aunts and uncles to have favorites. My cousins’ parents. They weren’t at all like the parents of my friends. No, these adults were mine, as in My Aunt Bope and My Uncle Max. They showed an interest in me; perhaps they were seeking similarities to their siblings. If I did something remarkable, like get married or have kids, they gave me gifts. They gave my children gifts. They always seemed happy to see me. And at each stage of my life, I’ve loved being in their company. But over the years they’ve been disappearing.
There were only a few days between the joyful family event that brought my tribe traveling west to Colorado and then south to Ilse’s funeral in Florida. In between, in Ithaca, I met up with my photographer friends at a lotus pond. We took pictures of young shoots emerging from the muddy pond bottom, new pointy-leaf buds, and unfurling blooms already pinked out or still green like their stalks. Some of the flowers had petals opened wide and falling. There were old dried up, naked pods standing tall or bent downward. The pond was thick with lotuses at all stages of lotus life.
Stages. Changes that happen between life and death. The shifts I’ve made from thinking in terms of my tiny shrinking family (my single child left, one remaining uncle, one of this and one of that…) to considering the whole family forest. My cousins and my cousins’ children are now aunts and uncles. They branch out with partners and step-kids and “extendeds.” Thanks to all their blooming and blossoming, our tribe continues to grow.
And maybe it will be my funeral they gather at next. Or maybe, I’ll soar up into the sea of clouds above the magnificent flowering earth, and be the one to outlive them all.