Beautiful as the moon and just as unreachable

My great-aunt Slava died.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the song she sang obsessively in her last weeks. I, of course, have also been singing it obsessively. I sang it to myself for days: when I first heard that she’d died; when I went to Chicago for the funeral; when I came home full of thoughts of her, mine now mixed with those of everyone else in my family.

It was so strange to go to Chicago, where I’ve been with my family to celebrate weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, and to know that Slava wouldn’t be there. I’d think for an instant that I’d see her before I remembered – no, I wouldn’t. And then to picture my great-uncle without her seemed unthinkable. They met on a train, talked for four days straight on the train and then on a boat, and were married for sixty years. So as much as I – or my mother, or my cousins – couldn’t imagine the world without Slava,

Anyway, I’m rambling. I’ve been thinking about death. On one hand, it’s as much a part of life as birth. On the other, it touches on some of the scariest territory we know of: nothingness. We talk of afterlife, of souls, of heaven and of not-so-heavenly places. All these things are a way of negating the idea of the end. But really, as far as we really know, the person is gone.

And yet, they’re not. Slava is vivid in my mind. I can still hear her telling stories. I can hear her accent perfectly. I can picture her hair and her eyes and her gestures. I still have that.

Everyone else who knew her also has those things, viewed through their own lenses. We told stories. I’d never known that she made lemon bars, but her grandkids almost drooled at the mention of them. Other people hadn’t known how caustic she could be when she switched from English to Yiddish. And so on. The more stories we tell, the more of her there is.

And so may we all live on.

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