Monday, March 15, 2010


Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to a woman who had shaped my personality more than she had shaped my life. My aunt Becky died suddenly at the age of 55, taken over by the diabetes she’d struggled to keep at bay most of her life. My aunt Ruth found her on the day she was supposed to take part in a clinical trial that would help her finally get control of a disease she’d been fighting for so long.

Aunt Becky was… well, she was Aunt Becky. You can’t live your life with just two cats as companions and not have people wonder about you. But the great thing about Becky was that she wasn’t crazy, just fiercely independent. People think I’m joking when I say I got my mulish stubborn streak from all four grandparents. I’m not. Becky and I were fairly close in personality and looks, and, let’s not forget, devotion to cats.

I’ll never forget the grin on her face when I finally got Music, a cat with a history of abuse, to let me pet her after three days of coaxing during a visit when I was 12. She also graciously let me play Gustav Holst’s The Planets a few times after I found it in her vast CD library. My aunt and uncle have the unenviable task of sorting out the large collection of not only CDs and DVDs of other people’s work, but also of Becky’s. She was an accomplished photographer who was humble about her work, even though it was taken in exotic locations. I was always “Senorita” to her after the years she spent teaching missionary children in Costa Rica. Nicki, my cousin, was lucky enough to go to Costa Rica herself and experience some of the things Becky had.

The hardest thing to hold on to, at least for me, will be the memory of her voice. I say her voice because I have a hard time recalling my aunt Deb’s voice. She died of cancer ten years ago, and it’s so hard to remember the sweet voice of my youth rather than the voice taxed by drugs and lungs struggling to operate. Grandpa I can hear as if he were standing next to me ("Well, Squirrelly..."), and I can hear Becky ("But, Dad...."), but Deb is starting to slip away from me.

Becky saw more of my parents than me these last few years, although I kept track of her through our family group emails. I have been waiting for mail to come into my inbox to bump down the email she wrote the day before she died so that I won’t have such a hard time every time it loads. I just can’t bring myself to put it into a folder.

The night before the memorial service, my cousin Jack was still putting together a video tribute, and Dad and I were digging through highly unorganized shoeboxes of photos just in case there were more pictures of Becky out there. (Bless Jack’s heart. “It was really easy,” he told me, but I knew it wasn’t tough on him technically, just emotionally.)

Mom didn’t want to join us-she was tired, she wasn’t in the mood for it, Jack had enough pictures, this was impossible because Becky was always behind the camera, etc. Dad finally managed to reel her in with a picture of Becky and Mom at my parents’ wedding. It was just their faces, with Becky looking a lot more sure of herself while my mom wore a veil.

Mom smiled, and reached for a shoebox. I think that may have been the first step of healing for us all. Here was Becky, rarely the focus of the picture, usually with a child her arms, letting us envelop her while she did her own thing.

This is Jack's video. It's a better picture of Becky than what was in the shoeboxes, but she'll always be my aunt Becky.

Becky's Memorial Video from jack maatman on Vimeo.