In all but name, my great aunt Vera was a grandparent to me.
I write “was” because Auntie VV passed away two weeks ago. My first ever funeral. (In retrospect, getting to 29 without having attended a funeral seems an impossible feat.)
Yet as I sat there in church, listening to the eulogy, I didn’t feel sad; I felt thankful.
Thankful for the long holidays in Spain as a child, walking along the beach, Auntie Vera buying me ice cream and giving me hers when mine wasn’t enough. I remember sitting on the veranda together as the sky darkened and bats flitted overhead, playing cards and gambling with her enormous stash of pennies
Thankful for how much she made me laugh as I grew older. I remember sitting at her table in Dublin, talking about everything and anything as her latest rescue cat stared distrustfully from the doorway. I remember the throaty rasp of her dry chuckle, her eyes brightening with wicked humour.
Thankful for her friendship, the easy camaraderie despite the years stretching between us. She used to call me her little chicken, but I never thought of Auntie Vera as a mother hen. She was one of the girls, a trusted confidant of our many little secrets.
My entire childhood — when I had no concept of age — I thought she was 75 (an insult to her, at first, but eventually a compliment). Over the years, I noticed her getting older, but it was always in a passive way, unacknowledged.
But then, in one moment, things changed.
At her 90th birthday, in the confusion of a large family gathering, for a split second she confused me for my cousin’s wife. I bent down to hug her — careful now, she chuckled, don’t spill my rosé — and she said it was nice to meet me.
That was when I truly realised she wouldn’t be there forever.
I sat through the meal refusing to think about it. After dessert when the family furore had quietened, I went to sit next to her and we talked as we always had, as if nothing had happened. She quizzed me on “Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome” and then leaned in to tell me a secret: I can’t drink like I used to, she whispered, have a vodka for me, won’t you?
The last time I went to visit her before her death, she was at home in her favourite chair with a blanket over her knees. Cigarette clutched in one hand, crumpled lottery tickets on the mantlepiece behind her.
Everything looked exactly as it always had, except her. She was smaller, somehow, as delicate as a bird in my arms.
Not long after, she was admitted into a care home. I never made it back to Dublin to see her, but I sent her postcards, photos, flowers, chocolates.
And now she’s gone. Yet no matter how hard I try to accept the finality of her passing, I can’t.
My great aunt Vera helped make me into the person I am today. She helped shape the lives of many others both in my family and beyond.
So when I think of her now, I think of the beautiful ripple effect of her influence, stretching forward into the endless future.
And I think that, one day, I’d like to leave a ripple like hers.