A birthday card I had bought to give my Aunt Kate shows a bunch of relatives, grinning into the camera for a family selfie. But one person is climbing over a distant back fence, rapidly heading the other way.
The card says, “It’s easy to pick you out in family pictures … you’re the one trying to escape.”
Kate hated to have her picture taken. H-a-t-e-d it with a passion surpassed only by her love for all of us, football and baseball, horse races, old movies, “The Godfather,” court TV, “Law and Order” and books. Tons of books.
Kate was hard to catch. She’d see the camera and head for the nearest fence, so to speak. But we’d get the picture anyway, whenever she came to visit Cambria, which was as often as three times a year.
I’m so glad we did.
Here’s some advice learned the hard way: No matter how much someone doesn’t want to be in the picture you’re taking, insist. Accept no excuses.
Kate was born 2.5 years before I was. She was the closest thing to a blood-relative sister I ever had.
She died suddenly Jan. 29 in North Carolina.
For the past two years, she’d lived with the Ryders: Pat and my cousin John (Kate’s nephew and the third of our semi-sibling trilogy growing up) in their Emerald Isle house overlooking the Atlantic and Bogue Sound.
A few days earlier, Kate hadn’t felt well. She’d spent Jan. 28 in bed, but had seemed a bit better the next morning.
That didn’t last.
The Ryders took her to a hospital 20 miles away, but she had pneumonia in her smoking-damaged lungs. When her heart stopped, the hospital’s resuscitation procedures just didn’t work.
In the blink of an eye, she was gone, and, as our son Sean said later, “All our lives have changed forever.”
It’s the wrenching loss of yet another person who had adored each of us for our entire lives. It’s rather like losing my mom and grandmother all over again.
But I’m dealing with it in waves, mostly by remembering and sharing memories of times we’d spent together.
Something that’s helped me do that has been going through our albums and computer files, searching for pictures of Kate to share with John and Pat, who have very few of them — except a 1985 passport photo that was “amazingly good,” John said, and her driver’s license photo which “made her look like a Mafia hit man.”
There’s been comfort amid the pain as I scroll through the digital files and prints, remembering the good times we had — killer Scrabble games with John and Pat, watching “Casablanca” for the 900th time with Pat, endless giggle fests, my high school graduation, sitting in the first box seat at the New York Philharmonic to see the “Bernstein plays Brubeck plays Bernstein” concert, Sean’s wedding in San Diego.
My mind is bouncing around like a pingpong ball in a hurricane.
There are memories of some especially eventful, earlier shared vacations, too, including one during which my mother married a man she’d known for 10 days, and another trip that preteen Kate concluded with her leg in a cast (which rode home to New York from Vermont in my lap and John’s).
On the latter trek, John and Kate ate hamburgers and blueberry pie at every single meal except breakfast, and I’m sure they’d have eaten them then, too, if the adults had let them do so.
We who loved Kate have been sharing all that by phone as we wade through the oddities and legalities of an unexpected death — who knew that, if a deceased someone wanted to be cremated but the relatives can’t find the will that says so, North Carolina requires written agreement to the procedure from at least half the heirs.
We’ll all keep celebrating Kate’s life in many ways — including over a burger-and-blueberry-pie dinner soon.
But I’ll keep coming back to pictures of her striding down a San Francisco street, at sushi with my son Brian, at a boardwalk San Diego café, with our grandchildren, standing by a harbor filled with otters. …
And those memory triggers help a lot.
So please, please. Take lots of photos of the people you love. Now, and often thereafter. You never know, my friends. You just never know.