My great Aunt Muriel has gone on now to her greater reward. She was the last of her generation; my grandparents' siblings - and just that fact seems astonishing at this point in my life. Born the same year that Ireland became an independent nation, Aunt Muriel was the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, and the keeper of her Ryan and Murray families' stories. We visited with her Mother's Day weekend, just a few days before her 99th birthday. Still living independently, and still enjoying her afternoon tea with some sweets anytime she had company - which was often.
I didn't really know my mom's aunts, uncles and cousins much as a kid. When I realized back in the early 2000s that despite losing both parents very young, my mom had living aunts who knew a hell of a lot of her family history, I wanted to get to know them and learn more about who I am.
So my story with Aunt Muriel really begins on a spring day in 2004, filming her and my Aunt Phyllis talking about my mom's family history. Over the ensuing 17 years, she shared an enormous amount of her story with me. Aunt Muriel had the memory of an elephant - we never had a visit where she didn't drop some astonishing new-to-me piece of family history. She and my father's mother are the two biggest reasons that Treasures in My Chest ever even happened.
Aunt Muriel and Madi developed a special bond around having birthdays around the same time, and exchanged cards in the mail right up through this spring. She wrote notes and letters, and liked getting them too. (I'm pretty sure I at least did her the favor of typing every letter I wrote to her so that she'd actually be able to read it.)
She gave me a whole quarter of my family history, with more detail than I could even manage to keep, though I've done my level best. Aunt Muriel had all of the old family photos, the family trees and the records. In a way, her generation was the bridge - holding on to our priceless and irreplaceable treasures until my generation could use our digital technology to preserve and share them. Thanks to her, none of that will be lost. I will always wish that I'd had time to write down more of our stories - she knew and remembered SO much right to the end. And while she gave me the knowledge to connect our family history in Counties Cork and Carlow, I was able in turn to give her a rich legacy of colonial American ancestry that none of us had known. Deep roots on both sides of the Atlantic.
It's hard to accept that she's moved on, but harder still to feel like she got cheated in any way. In the end, her keen spirit and mind simply outlived the warranty on her body. Even over these last few weeks she was brightened by many visitors. I surely miss her and always will, but her gift to me is simply immeasurable. I am deeply saddened, but even more grateful that I've had her in my life.
With love always to Aunt Muriel