“To speak the name of the dead is to make him alive again”Egyptian Proverb
My great aunt Janie Mae Middleton died in 2006. She was never married, and she had no children. I can only remember her being wheelchair bound with Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. She shook so badly she had to be fed and changed. She didn’t talk much but when she did, her voice was shaky and slow. She loved watching tv and her laugh was contagious. Whenever you heard her laugh, you would instantly start laughing right along with her. My grandmother would tell me stories about how Auntie Janie was before she got sick. She was a bad mama Jama! She was in her bag. She worked at National Fuel, stacked her paper, traveled the world, and was dressed to boot. But then she got sick, all of a sudden. Out of nowhere. No one could explain it. My great grandmother (her mother) took care of her until my great grandmother died in 1999.
I was tasked with sitting with auntie Janie while the family was out making funeral arrangements for my great grandmother. Auntie Janie started crying and I went over to her and rubbed her back and asked her what was wrong. She replied shakily, “I have to figure out what I am going to do next”. She knew with her mother and caretaker now dead; her options were limited. My heart broke for her. I had never seen her cry before. I had never heard her articulate her feelings before. I told her not to worry, everything would be ok. And it was. My grandmother took her in and cared for her until Auntie Janie died in 2006.
That moment has always stayed with me. Auntie Janie didn’t have a husband or children. After my grandmother passed in 2019, the last person who I knew would say her name and speak of her memory was gone. And what about Auntie Janie? Was she to be forgotten? Did she not matter? A single, childless woman who was taken care of by her mother and sister, the only two who maybe ever really cared?
Auntie Janie lives on. Her picture is on my ancestor altar. She is not forgotten. She is remembered. She is loved. She is family. She may not have had a husband or children, but she has one great niece who understands the importance of keeping our loved ones alive, even in death. There are those who frown upon ancestor veneration. It is important to understand that we do not worship the dead. We do not place them above God or Source. We simply take action to let them know they still matter. And they are not forgotten…Who do you need to remember?