Finding Family

Old family photosPeople react to death in many different ways. Sudden deaths are perhaps most difficult, leaving family and friends to suffer the shock as well as the grief. Expected death may trigger feelings from anger, to loss, to relief. What if the death is that of a parent who has lived long and well and whose passing can be considered a blessed release from a debilitated illness or of long suffering.

Such was the end of my mother’s struggle from a stroke that had left her without speech and unable to support her own body for six years. My father had already passed on, leaving me face to face with my own mortality.

As her grandchildren assembled with the rest of the family and her many friends, it occurred to me that my sister and I had suddenly become the “older generation.” I am the eldest daughter. Did my place in the family devolve upon me any responsibility?

For most of my adult life I had been busy getting an education, raising three children, running a small business, and responding to community appeals for volunteer assistance that my flexible schedule allowed. Small changes in work and family commitments had more recently left a few more hours of free time. I began to contemplate my place in the family web and what this all meant.

As for all those who are left when someone dies, decisions about personal effects of the deceased must be made and a lifetime collection of “things” sifted through. This process had already begun when my parent’s home was sold and they had each moved into a long-term care residence. Now there were only several boxes stored in my basement that my sister and I could attend to at our leisure.

Rifling through the boxes I found three main items of interest. Of course, there was a lifetime collection of photograph albums that my sister and I laughed and cried over. My folks had taken pictures at significant events even when they did not have much money. Mom recorded family holidays and visits to special people in their (and our) lives. But she had also been the repository of other albums that had belonged to her mother, my grandmother, my dad’s sister, my aunt, when each had died.

Two photographs from the belongings of my aunt sparked the greatest interest. One was a 4” by 6” photo of a stern woman in white, standing at a table where other white-clad younger women with caps stood. She seemed to be in charge and the back of the picture was dated and stamped by a firm in Norway. Was this my Grandmother Gunhild?