Aunt Marcia – Family Vol. 4

flowers

Flowers near Marcia’s bed.

My heart is breaking, but it’s not just for me. It is breaking for my mother’s brother Ken Viard, for Ken’s children Melissa and Carl (with whom, at some relatively minor physical distance, I grew up), for Melissa’s husband Jeff and Carl’s wife Agnes, and for all those who love Marcia Leete Worthen Viard, who, on Feb 22, 2017,  passed into what awaits us all.

~

Aunt Marc was born in 1931 in Taunton, Mass., to Milton Hathaway Worthen and Margaret “Peg” Maynard – a couple who gave Marcia her middle name (according to family legend) to honor dear friends, rather than any family member. (I have done some looking and have found no other Leetes in the Worthen or Maynard families.)

That’s how family works sometimes.

~

The Worthens were a true hard-working Massachusetts family – shipbuilders who lived on Walnut and Woodland streets in Newburyport, Mass., in the 1800s, until a branch of the family settled in Taunton, where the family turned to machining and the phone company. Taunton has more or less straddled the Taunton River since the mid-1600s, not far from Fall River. In the early days, Taunton was known for producing bar iron, a step in the process that produced wrought iron. The Taunton Iron Works produced for more than 200 years, and was followed into the 20th century by other firms.

In my life, though, Taunton was the accent my Aunt Marc carried with her – the strongest Massachusetts accent I ever met, tempered only slightly by her years in Connecticut, living in a late-19th Century home on West Mystic Avenue, up the hill from the borough of Mystic and tantalizingly near the historic Seaport (just a drawbridge and 20 or so minutes of summertime traffic between them).

And for me, Aunt Marc was the easy laugh that set me just enough at ease in the home she and her husband Ken ran with notable (and reliable) precision and high expectations of proper behavior. I may have learned more about protocol in that house than anywhere else in my early life. (I also learned that people really did survive with only two or three fuzzy TV channels – unlike the wealth of our New York area offerings.)

Aunt Marc was also the one who made sure I had what I needed to feel safe and comfortable at bedtime when (I believe) the kids were shuffled off to sleep so the real conversations could begin with the adults gathered around the dark-hued dining room table.

That’s how family works sometimes.

~

For perhaps for a year, it has been the responsibility of Marcia’s family to make sure she felt safe and comfortable at bedtime as she wrestled with a progressive, terminal respiratory condition that slowly made it more difficult for her to draw full breaths, or to empty her lungs of the fluids that collected there.

Most recently, Marcia left behind the home she had recently shared with her husband, and entered Hospice.

Throughout the process, her daughter and son and their spouses and children and grandchildren carried comfort and joy to Marcia whenever they could, often at the expense of other responsibilities – work, family, and the like – but seemingly never with anything but compassion for the matriarch of the family.

That’s how family works sometime.

~

For several days before she passed, Marcia slept with an old teddy bear of hers tucked under her blanket.

This is the cycle we live: From the beginnings of our lives, when we sleep as babies with our teddy bears tucked under our blankets to bring us safety and comfort, to the same circumstances nearer the ends of our lives. From being cared for – to caring for others – to once again being cared for.

There is a tidy beauty in this symmetry, when we are afforded it. It brings a mix of pain and love and anxiety and relief to those around us. We know these feelings well, and grow to know them better. We feel them as parents with the responsibility of protecting our children, and much, much later – if we are lucky – we feel them again as children with the responsibility of protecting our parents.

This is life at its most genuine and emotional and purposeful.

~

That’s how family works sometimes.

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