It is said that, when we die, our life flashes before our eyes. We experience a sort of review, revealing our good deeds and a few things that might evoke regret. That may be true. But, in some ways, my life is already a constant re-run of events.
I see postcard-like flashes of faces, events, moments. This is less like a movie, more like a slide-show. These sparks may be triggered by an image, or a fragrance, or by nothing at all. They are snapshots, like old photos, frozen in time. I usually see someone as they were so very long ago. A memory emerges from some great depth, unexpected, and I wonder where that came from, why now?
My first husband died almost 20 years after our divorce. After a few years, I seldom thought of him. However, while driving on Tchoupitoulas Street in 1996, I was suddenly startled by a vivid memory of our first kiss. That happened in 1966!
The next day I learned that he had died of a massive heart attack at age 48. And, that it was probably happening at the exact moment of my stunning flashback. I wonder if he was experiencing his life review, or sending me a message, or whether it was just a bizarre coincidence?
One day this week, I kept using the name “Patricia” when speaking to women whose names were nothing like that. “Rebecca” became “Patricia,” so did my co-workers and a few people on the phone.
That night, I came home to find a message that my Aunt Pat had died. No surprise. She had not been well for a long time. My last photo of her was almost unrecognizable, an old lady with eyes focused on something beyond the camera. Like her mother, Aunt Pat had slipped into a murky world of senility. Little of the woman that I remember was left.
I keep thinking of her as tall, athletic. She played tennis and painted scenes of rural fields. She had an excellent eye for beauty, working for many years as a “picker” for an antiques dealer in Cajun country.
We were all Catholic; but, Aunt Pat may have been the one with the most faith. She had 10 children. Her walls were hung with “portraits” of the Madonna.
One cold morning, five of her children were in a horrible accident on the way to school. Their bodies were scattered, lifeless, across an empty field of wildflowers and clover. The first people on the scene believed them all to be dead. They recognized the family and ran to tell Pat. She arrived to find all the children with blankets covering their faces. As it turned out, none were dead — then. A few days later, Caroline, age 17, died of her massive injuries.
What struck me most was Pat”s strength. She comforted the others, especially the son who was driving. There was never a moment of blame.
After that, some of the Madonnas were replaced with portraits of beautiful Caroline, always 17. The fields in her paintings seemed emptier, their colors dulled, sad and muted.
I am remembering my aunt as she was so many years ago, slender, straight-backed, with a tennis racquet in her hand, or a paint brush. I can hear her accent with that South-Louisiana inflection, pronunciations like no other.
These days, my earthly life is a continuous loop of history, edited, perhaps romanticized. I think of my cousins as children with blond curls and bare feet. I can barely identify those aging people in the photos they send. My aunts and uncles are strong, laughing. My parents are alive.
I hope that my final “life review” will be full of happiness and flashes of the people I have loved, forever young.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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