An Unexpected Goodbye

Aunt: noun, ‘ant, ‘[a’]nt, 1: The sister of one’s father or mother, 2: The wife of one’s uncle.

Normally, I don’t haggle with Mr. Webster, but he missed the mark on this one. He makes “Aunt” so clinical, some sort of corporate org chart devoid of emotional connection.

Aunt Terry, as she was known in our house up to a couple of months ago, passed away in her sleep on November 5. She left behind her husband Steve, daughters Jill, Nicole, and Tina (and their husbands Ernest, Matt, and Jeff), son Pip (and his wife Jen), grandchildren Jacob, Lauren, and Owen, sisters Claudette, Claire, and Denise and their families, our family (Terry was Steph’s Aunt), and too many families to mention. In my experience, she was one of the rare people who are genuinely “good”, whose generosity of spirit was obvious and sincere. I feel blessed to have known her, and I’m certain that if prayers are petitions, she’s far surpassed the required signatures to get her into heaven.

I say she was known as Aunt Terry up until a few months ago: In June, we had the pleasure of spending a long weekend with her family on the occasion of Jill’s wedding, my first opportunity to spend extended time with Terry and most of her clan. They are a fabulous, quirky, comical family, best summarized by Stephanie: they’re a novel of great characters waiting for a story. I felt privileged to spend time with them, to laugh with them, to share in what was undoubtedly the best marriage ceremony I had ever attended outside of my own. It’s too much to describe completely, but a few details might illuminate the mood: The bride, stunningly radiant and notably 6 months pregnant; The preacher, big book in hand (a closer look revealed it was not the obligatory bible, but Mark Twain’s Complete Reader), exerting the powers vested in him by the World Wide Web; the groom, whose vows made us all cry, a gift inherited from his Dad, whose own post-ceremony toast was so heartfelt that it turned the entire gathering into a chorus of sobbing fools, a cathartic confusion of sadness and joy and what felt like every other emotion that makes us human. I suspect the home video of the event must look something like a Wes Anderson movie.

But my favorite part of the weekend was Aunt Terry. She was seeing our daughter Sage at an age that Sage’s actual grandparents had yet to see, and she jokingly tried to teach Sage to say Mémère to her before Sage could say it to her “real” grandmother.

“Memmay. Can you say it?”.
“Mem—may”.
“Memmmmmmmay”.

(It should be noted that Sage was 9 months old, and her closest attempt sounded like “Ab-bah-ba-ba”)

In September, Aunt Terry returned to the west coast for Jill’s shower, and once more we enjoyed the privilege of spending a lot of time with her family. “Mémère”, she’d whisper to Sage, and while Sage was still resistant to French (and most English), a funny thing happened: Steph and I began to repeat it back to her.

Sage already has two wonderful mémères, but neither have adopted that particular moniker for themselves: They are Meme and Nana. And Maggie, Sage’s surrogate “west-coast grandma”, is purely Maggie. But it was more than mere semantics: Mémère’s interaction with Sage was so loving, so fun, that she could never be “Aunt Terry” to Sage. Webster’s version of “Aunt” was inaccurate in too many ways. (Heck, by Webster’s definition, Terry wasn’t even my Aunt.) Mémère was the only word that sounded right.

And it still does.

To all of the Obrins, the Bonenfant girls, to everyone impacted by her personality, my heart is saddened for your loss, for our loss. Yet I hope that in this time of grief, we take time to celebrate all that we have, in our hearts and our memories, all of the wonderful things she’s given to us. Here in Portland, Sage and Owen are going to learn about Mémère from the stories we tell, and from those stories they will know how wonderful she was when she was with us, how much she meant to so many people in her life, and how much she would have loved to see them grow up to be strong, loving people. I simply wish Mémère was here to tell those stories herself.

Bonne nuit, Mémère. Vous aurez le bras long.

I hope that my French is close to correct: I meant to say, “Your arms will reach far, you’re influence will continue.”

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