The news I'd been half-expecting all last week came this morning: my sister died during the night. She passed away very peacefully, which I'll always be grateful for, and considering the quality of life which would otherwise have laid ahead for her, it was probably for the best. My nephew faces the sad task of making the necessary arrangements, but I'm helping him out a bit by getting in touch with our cousins to pass on the news - or trying to.
Over the years, of course, our "extended family" has inevitably dwindled. When I think back to all those boyhood Christmases with rows of cards from aunts and uncles including their respective offspring - and to the occasional big get-together - it rather brings it home to me that I'm one of a decreasing number of survivors. The aunts and uncles slowly became fewer (albeit living till their nineties in a couple of cases) and while I have a couple of cousins' phone numbers, others I'd long ago lost touch with and don't recollect whether my sister had any recent contact or not although she did tell me a while back she was embarking on doing a family tree!
Of our own immediate family, it now just leaves me - my mother and father having died some twenty years ago. I remember having distinct nightmares as quite a small boy that my mother would die suddenly and I'd be left all alone in the world! Silly when you look back on it, and I suppose like all toddlers I really thought the end of the world had come if I suddenly found I'd lost sight of my mum in a shop or somewhere. When in 1988 it happened for real, it did somewhat to my surprise take me quite a while to get over her death but I daresay the passage of years brings with it the realization that human lifespan is a finite quantity and I'm maybe a bit more philosophical about it all now.
So if I look behind me now there's no longer anyone there holding me, but somehow I sense their spirit is still very much alive - and I guess always will be.