My great-aunt Kate passed away on Monday. She was 99. If you just thought, “What a great long life,” you are not wrong. And an amazing life to boot. Aunt Kate was the youngest of all of my greats on that side of the family. She is the last of that generation of my family to go, on either side. She was my maternal grandpa’s youngest sibling. He passed away in his early 70s of cancer, but my mom was close to Aunt Kate even after, so I was as well. She never married or had kids, but was everyone’s honorary mom or favorite auntie. Her sister married an alcoholic and Aunt Kate was the one to step in and help those kids when they needed, so after their mom died, they officially adopted Kate as their own. She lived here in town my whole life, until eight years ago, when she bought a house down the street from her niece a few towns over. They ran an antique shop and Kate helped out and as she aged, her niece made it possible for her to stay in her home and not go to a nursing facility. After her niece’s husband passed of cancer a few years back, she moved in with Kate and became a regular caretaker for her. At 99, Aunt Kate was able to pass away at home.
Our family is from Ireland and Kate took a good 3 or so trips over there to track down living relatives and find old gravestones. In a time when you couldn’t just go on the internet and find out who your family was, Kate did a full blown genealogy report on our family. She was self-taught - her job was at a phone company her whole life, so not in genealogy at all - and became so good at it that people began to hire her to do their families. In the research room at the library, right next to the elevator, every time we were there to get books, Aunt Kate was there too, working on a genealogy report. It’s a wonder my little brother didn’t think that was Aunt Kate’s house, that we just borrowed books from her. To be fair, her house was a library in and of itself. So many books about history and Ireland and Europe. Her house even smelled like a library. She had amazing self-taken photos of Ireland all around her house. She traveled the world and was a self-educated, free-spirited lady. I admired her and I am proud to say that of all the people in the family, I look the most like Kate!
She lived on the same side of town that we moved to when I was in high school and my parents divorced, so we always ran into her at the bank. I’d be there cashing my paycheck, on the way to buy us groceries, and she would always stop and check in with me. She would always say, “You know if you kids ever need anything…” like she knew how bad things were at home. I never did call on her, but it was a comfort in the back of my head to know if my brother and I were in too deep, we had someone to go to. When my mom and aunt opened a daycare for special needs kids, Kate gave them their inheritance early as an investment. When Mom bought her house down the street here, Kate paid to build the ramp. “Or else I’ll never be able to come see your new house!” she told Mom, when we both knew it was because she suspected Mom would need the ramp sooner rather than later.
My mom was just telling me how Aunt Kate was with her niblings - Mom and her generation as kids - the way my sister and I are with our niblings. She was always the one they made play with them. She said they always wanted to play Perry Mason and Aunt Kate always, always had to be the person who broke down and confessed they were guilty. She never got to be anyone else, but Mom says it’s because Kate was so good at it, she would throw herself into the crying and confessing like she had really done it! I love that story because it means, maybe, I am more like my Aunt Kate than I realized.
Lay down now, on the green rolling hills, and go home.
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