Once the initial grief at losing someone we care about settles, you come to recognise just how much the person has touched your life in little everyday ways.
My aunt and namesake passed away last month. She was a feisty 82 years young but sadly cancer won the battle in the end. For the first time in my 51 years of life, I’m the only Coral in the family and, trust me, it’s a peculiar feeling.
Timing and covid and the small matter of three thousand miles meant I never got to say goodbye but then with us it was never goodbye. It was invariably, “I’ll talk to you after. Cheerio. See You later. Take care.”
As I’ve reflected on things over the past few weeks. I’ve begun to realise the extent of her touch on the little things in my life. Simple things like she was the first to introduce me to a breakfast consisting of a buttered, toasted cinnamon raisin bagel, topped with crispy streaky bacon, all washed down with a strong cup of coffee. Still my Sunday and holiday breakfast of choice. And every time I sit down to it, I picture her kitchen.
When I make potato salad, it’s her recipe I use, recalling fondly just about burning the skin off my fingertips trying to shell hot hard-boiled eggs as I helped to make a huge bowl for a US family gathering. (The part two of that story makes me both smile and cringe – as we cleared up post-BBQ debris many hours and a considerable amount of alcohol later, we found a huge slug crawling on the inside of the potato salad bowl in the cool box. Bowl and slug were promptly hurled out of the back door, down the yard and into the dark!)
I hold her wholly accountable for the fact I now have a house full of cats (I have 4). The first time I visited my aunt and uncle with the kids, Boy Child fell in love with Max, their huge Maine Coon cat. When we returned home, he was distraught at leaving Max behind. Less than a month later, our first rescue cat, Dixie, entered our lives. Sioux followed a few months later and the rest is history!
Every time I light a Yankee Candle Lemon Lavender scented candle I think of my aunt and smile.
There are countless precious memories that she played a hand in over the years. When the kids and I visited when they were little, she moved heaven and earth to make sure we had a great trip. (Ok, perhaps the only failure there was the white-water rafting trip on the Lehigh River but even that day had plenty of memorable moments, including my only ride to date in a yellow American school bus.)
It was my aunt (and uncle) who introduced me to Rehoboth Beach, DE way back in the sun-baked summer of 1980. Those few days at the shore triggered a lifetime of love for that special place. Many years later, when I was looking for a setting for my Silver Lake series, it was the first place to come to mind. A place close to my heart.
When I was trying to visualise Lori’s beach house, there was no doubt in my mind about which house to base it on – my aunt’s home. (Albeit in reality, its one hundred miles from the shore.) I never told her at first, but when I sent her a copy of Stronger Within, I got a phone call a few days later. I paraphrase here but her comments were along the lines of “So, I’m reading this book and loving it and thinking to myself “I know this house” then I realised it was mine!”
Memories of beach days together are extra special and stretch back to “jumping waves” at Ocean City, NJ in August 1974. Years later, together, we introduced my kids to the ocean and “jumped waves” with them for the first time in Ocean City, MD. Happy days.
The beach was a happy place for both of us. Might have been something to do with the name. We’d meander along the sand or simply stand watching the ocean for dolphins swimming by as we dug our toes in the soft wet sand. The photo above was taken at Cape Henlopen DE in 2006 and remains one of my favourites.
Those special to us never really leave us when they pass. They live on in our hearts and our memories and in everyday things.
Rest in peace, Auntie Coral.