The Last Sibling Standing

(My older brother Tony and me at 3 1/2 and 2 years old, respectively)

Last night we received some very unsettling news: My Dad's sister, Alberta, had passed away.

There are very few times in my life that I can recall seeing my Dad visibly shaken. After all, this is a man who faced the horrors of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Last night he told me that his Mother died while he was in Vietnam. He was able to come back to Louisiana for her funeral, see his wife and their three small children, his Father, and his other family members. His respite from the war was brief, because shortly thereafter he had to go right back and continue fighting in Vietnam. I marvel at the fact that after his Mother's death, my Dad was able to go back in such a hell-filled environment and stay focused enough to survive.

Death and carnage were all around him, and when he returned he developed a pact with my Mother and the other adults in the family: Don't ask, because I won't tell.

I won't go into those few times that I have seen my Dad's composure take a serious hit. I'm pretty sure you can understand that because my Dad is so stoic and such a soldier, those occasions had to be extremely critical times in our family.

And yet, last night, Daddy was shaken. You see, with Aunt Bert's demise, my Dad is now the Last Sibling Standing.

My paternal Grandmother and Grandfather; Mama Daisy and Papa, as we affectionately called them, were married fo 59 years. They were just a few months shy of their 60th wedding anniversary when Mama Daisy passed away; Papa lived 12 more years and remained a widower.

Mama Daisy gave birth to 14 children. She didn't give birth to any twins, which means my Grandmother was pregnant and gave birth 14 times.

Fourteen. times.

This, my friends, is the reason why you will always hear me say that if I can be half the woman who my Grandmothers were, I will have truly accomplished something in my life.

My Grandmother was 52 when she had my Dad. He was her "change of life baby." His nickname was "Nookie," and he was very much-loved, adored, and spoiled by his eight older sisters and five older brothers, most of whom were married and had children by the time my Daddy rolled around. 

I remember how, at my Dad's family gatherings, my Grandmother and my aunts would laugh and tell stories about how cute my Dad was, and how they all thought he was so precious, they wouldn't allow his feet to touch the ground! My Dad was literally always in one of their laps! My Dad was a "late walker" because of this. He had to learn to walk when Papa finally put his foot down and dared anyone to pick Daddy up. Mama Daisy and my Aunts (and even my uncles) would howl with laughter when they described how my Dad would crawl from person to person, whining and begging for one of them to pick him up. My Aunt Della (the oldest sister) would always deliver the punch line:

"Nookie got so mad when we wouldn't pick him up, till one day that boy just stood up and walked!"

I didn't know all of my Dad's siblings; a few of them died before I was born. I did get to know most of them, and I reminisce on how much joy and laughter was present at their gatherings. My Daddy's family is loud, boisterous, and demonstrative in their affection for each other. (My Mother's side is almost the polar opposite; quiet, conservative, and very restrained).  

My Dad was the baby of his family, and yet when Papa died Daddy became the family's leader. He was the one selected to transact all the family business; the one all his siblings - and even his nieces and nephews - turned to when they had to make major decisions.

He was the one his brothers-and-sisters-in-law called when they had to make funeral arrangements for his siblings.

And now, he's the last sibling standing.

I can't begin to imagine what that must be like. My immediate family is small; I only have two brothers. Thankfully, even my Mother and Father are still living. My love for and need for them is as essential to me as the air I'm breathing. I absolutely cannot fathom living in a world one of them is no longer a part of. And yet, my Dad has had to do this 15 times - not only for his parents, but for each of his 13 siblings.

I've said it before; I understand the inevitable nature of "the circle of life." I had two miscarriages during my marriage; the second time with twins during my second trimester. My husband died five years later. So, I've dealt with the reality of death; the sense of pain and separation that intrinsically accompanies it. Death is an inescapable reality that stretches forth its cold, grasping hands into our lives one way or the other. It leaves us no choices; we have to deal with it until, at last, its hands touch us.

I don't know what the future holds; I don't know which of my two brothers and I will be "the last sibling standing." I can only borrow from my Dad's example. I can hold he and my Mother close to me, and enjoy the gift of the present moments that we have together.

I can love out loud; boisterously and demonstratively, the way he and his sisters and brothers did, so whenever it comes time for one of us to be the last sibling standing, why, it really won't matter.  

 Join in the Fray: In what ways can you "love out loud?"

I’m blogging every day in the month of January in Blogher's NaBloPoMo Challenge. Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment!

Copyright © 2013 Michelle Matthews Calloway, ASwirlGirl, All rights reserved.

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