A few days ago, when I opened Word to write a new post, an unexpected document came up in the Recommended section: a farewell I wrote for the funeral of my aunt who passed in May 2018. I don’t know how this happened – I must have clicked that document accidentally while I was looking for something else.
I could have dismissed it, but I did not: I read it instead and took it as a reminder. If she were alive today, she would be alone, and it would be extremely hard on her if we didn’t call regularly. So, though it’s not her anniversary yet, I thought I would remember – no: reach out to – her. I also thought I would share a redacted* translation with you, so that you may find in it something I found: solace, not sorrow.
You were many things to many of us. That is, you are many things to many of us.
I don’t know if this is farewell. I don’t know if we are to mourn you – I actually don’t think we should. That only makes us feel sorry for ourselves and feed our fear of death. And today, of all days, is not at all about us.
Instead, I would rather we worked against death. Not protest: work. I want us to notice how much the loved one – that we think we said farewell to – remains with us. To notice how much she helped us become the people we are.
What follows will be very intimate.
I didn’t come to say farewell today: I came to visit. It may feel strange that I don’t have to ring three times at your door, and we’re not in your tiny flat – but this will have to do.
When I was little, you were the Cool Adult to me. I could talk to you about everything, and you said to me things I did not hear from my parents. I even learned from you even when you weren’t there. During the years I went to those extra English classes across the street from you, I always had a few hours to spend after school – to go to your place, do homework, but even more to browse your books and tapes.
You became the Cool Adult to my kids, too. You accepted my adopted children without hesitation, and you defended them even to us when it was necessary. You especially became an ally to my daughter.
Then again – you were the most free and open-minded person I had ever known. Even as you were bound and restricted all your life – by poverty, the “system”, the tiny apartment, and, towards the end, by your own body. If I learned one thing from you, it was the religious respect for freedom. I always think of you – I have always thought of you for decades now – when I try to reinforce my principles: that one of the most important, if not the most important, human value is freedom and the respect for another’s freedom and free will.
You are saying this again today as you set off for the wide world. Through the Danube the great river, through the sea, to the great earthly water cycle. This is really freedom unlimited – spanning the whole world. Elegant. Stylish. And very much like you.
[I’m omitting a letter from her because it, although it’s simple and beautiful, contains names and sensitive details – that cannot be removed without destroying the whole text.]
I don’t think the others want to listen to me for much longer. Maybe they want to tell you something, too. But before I give them the floor, I want to say thanks for something. Beside your freedom and openness, you were also the safeguard of family tradition. Your wedding gift to us – twenty years ago – was a detailed family tree. Later, you wrote an entire book to my generation about the history of our family. You uncovered the letters written by your father – my grandfather – from forced labor during the war, allowing my father and myself to get acquainted with him, decades after he disappeared. All this shaped our mind, our consciuousness, our identity. There is no stronger or more important legacy than this.
A note from the present: We did plant a maidenhair tree in your honor in my parents’ backyard. But we’re also struggling to keep it alive – it seems it’s just as reluctant to take root as you had been.
* To omit the intimate parts that can only be understood by family.