I had my tonsils out when I was six. I only remember two things about that experience: raspberry ice cream sliding down my very sore throat and waking up woozily to see my Aunt Peg sitting by my bed, quietly knitting and keeping watch.
She had one son, my cousin Robin, but I think she preferred girls, as she was much nicer to my sister and me than she was to Robin. In her mid-70s she moved to a retirement community in Princeton, NJ, and I visited her there often. She had a grand piano and played by ear, singing along and telling stories of sitting next to Cole Porter on the piano bench playing four-handed, “Begin the Beguine” and “You’d be So Easy to Love.”
In 1993 my husband and I went sailing in the Caribbean and South and Central America for five years. We came home for a visit in 1995 and I went to see Aunt Peg who was then 91 years old. We both knew it was our swan song together, and retold the old stories. It was our adieu; a year later, reading delayed mail on a floating dock on Guatemala’s Río Dulce, I learned of her death.
At our age and stage of life we think about death – our own and our loved ones’. If we hear of an out-of-town friend’s death, don’t we think, if only I could have seen her to say goodbye? Or perhaps we think, I miss so-and-so; I hope I’ll see him again before I die.
It’s a gift to be able to say goodbye. I learned that, along with so much more, from Aunt Peg. When my older brother died several years ago, he also gave me and the whole family the chance to be with him, to talk of small things and large, to speak of love and life, and to say farewell. Perhaps, at a death bed, goodbye and farewell mean God be with you, perhaps they mean have a gentle death, certainly they mean I love you now and I will forever.