I’ve written a novel in an attempt to bring my great-aunt Nora back to life, if not in the physical sense, then in a sense of memoriam. I have a book signing in my hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota, this coming weekend. A sort of celebration, I would hope, in her honor. People who know me will gather and speak of her, nearly 93 years after taking her last breath.
Those who we have lost are not just a part of the past, but also an absence in our present. What would they have become were they here today? If you think hard enough, you can imagine them doing some of the same things you yourself do, day after day. Living. Struggling. Enduring. Accomplishing.
This observation is more poignant when considering the very young. Children lost to this world due to some affliction or accident or act of criminality. Their dreams and experiences disappearing forever down a black hole, with no chance for a do-over. But maybe if you look hard enough, you might see what they may have looked like, how they may have acted or what they may have accomplished, as they aged, by studying the faces of their siblings or their siblings’ children, or even in those faces of their cousins. Just maybe a piece of them is somehow still with us.
What about those who were comfortably ensconced in their own skin, established and certain about whom they were with each passing day? My mother never met her aunt Nora, as she died two decades before she was ever born. I’m sure my grandfather shared with my mother stories of his older sister, of their growing up on the farmstead. But such stories tend to fade, becoming cloudy and murky with the passing of time. So much so that her story has become oversimplified. A teacher. A nurse. A person of faith, trusting in God, unconditionally. With so many years having since past, we’re sometimes left to conjecture, to make assumptions, to create legend while paying tribute.
My mother’s aunt was only 38 years-old, the same age as my wife Tory, and ten years younger than me. We the living eventually catch up to and suddenly pass, in age, those who have lived and died, so young, before us. Had my aunt survived, she would have undoubtedly met my mother. She may have even met my siblings and me. And what things might she have gone on to accomplish? In the end, none of us will ever be a part of her past, but sadly, and for always, only an absence in her future that never was.