Aunt Myra lived most of her adult life at a distance from our family. It can’t have been easy for a woman as bright and as strong as Myra, growing up in the South, given the prevailing attitudes about women during those times. She grew up and moved to California, as far away as anyone in the family ever went back then, and no doubt, to some, it might as well have been another planet. I never knew much about her until the Deacon moved to California and reconnected with her. Some years later, Myra moved back to the South and became a constant presence at our family holidays.

Although for years she was relatively uninvolved in the lives of our immediate family, Myra was deeply immersed in researching our family’s history and establishing other connections. She even went to Ireland and met with some distant cousins from her mother’s side. Eventually, she handed over a lifetime’s worth of research to the Engineer and taught him what she knew. They worked together for several years, continuing what she had started.

In many ways, it is thanks to Aunt Myra that we know so much about where we came from. She had a fierce pride in her roots, the good with the bad. When the family was waiting for news about a new baby coming, and a bit worried because the baby was in a breech position, Aunt Myra joyfully declared, “It must be a boy. It’s just like the men in our family to insist on entering the world butt first!”

We received the unexpected news that Myra had died suddenly, last week, at the age of 92. She was healthy right up to the end, living on her own, quite capable, independent, and in control of her faculties. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is such a thing as a good death, and it seems to me that Myra’s death was just as it should have been. While we all feel the loss, it isn’t an angry, questioning kind of grief. It’s more of a quiet, heavy sadness that seems to have swept over us. Quite simply, we miss her.

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the presence of each of us is a gift to the others, whether or not there is conflict, whether or not there are differences. I’m sincerely grateful for Myra’s presence at our table, for the strength of her character, and for the amazing gift of family history she gave us.