The Withering Family Tree
My Aunt Helene passed away passed away last week and while not unexpected, it still was a surprise. She died a month shy of her 91st birthday and had been in an assisted living home the last six years. We spoke infrequently but when we did talk, she relived her teaching days or talked politics, keeping up with the news of the day.
It got me started thinking about family and family trees as she was my last link to my father’s tree. We didn’t have strong contact with Dad’s family while I was growing up. Yes, we saw my grandparents and Uncle Albert (known to us as Bud) every Sunday but the extended family not so much. My Grandpa Phil’s family was always a mystery, not that it was a big secret, just never discussed. I met none of them and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I knew he had a sister. They were apparently estranged some time back and she didn’t attend my father’s wedding or get mentioned.
Grandma Eve’s family, the Pachters and Lancets, were small and largely located in New Jersey. We saw some of them every few years but there was no real connection or regular contact so they drifted from sight then memory. As it turns out, the last of the Pachters, Cousin Ethel is 99 and living in Las Vegas (I believe). Her husband, Jesse, died some twenty years back at 75 and I believe their daughter is gone and son is somewhere west.
I met Helen in 1969, right as I came home from summer camp, and took to her immediately. She and Uncle Bud met and married later in life, as they say, and had forty-two strong years together before he took ill and left us six years back. She was a perfect complement for Bud, smart, well-read, interested in arts, culture, and politics.
Helene had been a Spanish teacher and assistant principal in Far Rockaway, NY until she retired. During her eulogy, comments from the school’s Facebook page were read, and it’s interesting to note that sixty years later, several of her students remembered her and wrote lovely things about her, which, as a teacher, I really appreciated hearing.
She was proud of her family and we heard all about her nieces and nephews and, as it turns out, they heard all about us. When we gathered for the funeral, it wasn’t a gathering of strangers but something more. Still, there’s no real blood ties and distance will no doubt keep us apart.
Loss is never easy but when it’s compounded by realizing you no longer have half an extended family, the emptiness feels all the more profound.