KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: It’s a strange, sad feeling to be the last living member of your family
I am the last survivor — the only one left from the nuclear family consisting of my father, mother, older brother, younger sister and me.
It’s a strange feeling to know I am the only one now with the memories of the childhoods, Christmases, birthdays, vacations, conflicts, joys, tears and tragedies we shared together.
My brother Dennis died at age 75 on Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day. He was an Army veteran. He lived in Alaska where he worked as a biologist for the State Dept. of Fish and Game for his entire career before he retired. He finally succumbed to the effects of cancer.
My father Carl died in August at age 96. My sister Kathy died in 2013 at age 59. My mother Joan died at 76 in 1999.
While grieving over Dennie’s death and remembering his big-brother teasing, building tunnels with bales of hay in our grandfather’s barn, climbing mountains on family vacations and walking in the woods on Garman Road, where he would point out the flora and fauna of Allen County, I’ve also been in a state of retrospection for the past week-plus pondering this new reality as well.
And I’ve been researching what people have to say about being the only one left when the rest of your family has died.
“When you’re the last one left, you’re not only grieving about the person who died,” said Gloria Howser, a New York-based counselor who specializes in loss. “You’re also saying goodbye to the end of a common heritage, the end of shared memories.” Her comments were part of an article on the subject by Loretta Grantham of Cox News Service.
“You may have the support of uncles, aunts and cousins,” said Howser, “but, most likely, they didn’t grow up in the same house with you. They don’t remember you opening presents on Christmas morning when you were 6. They don’t remember your first date.”
And when I finally pass away, those memories will all be gone for my family of five, except for what may someday be mined from my writings and from old boxes of letters and birthday cards and scribblings on old photographs, when my own children and their children pore through the leftovers of my life, as I have been doing since my father and brother died.
My wife, Beth, has also lost her parents in years past, but she has her two brothers and two sisters still going strong, and plenty of opportunities to share time with them and recall names, dates and extraordinary details from the stories of their youth. And they can do that for hours.
I, unlike Beth and her family, am not good at recalling details of the past to that extent. I’m a reporter, a writer — a chronicler of history and events. A note-taker of things that happened and the impressions they left and their meanings to me. Otherwise, they would evaporate with the passing of time.
Grantham’s article on this subject also quoted Sylvia Lawson, a professor of sociology who teaches a course on death and survivorship at Florida Atlantic University, who said being last doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. She points to Caroline Kennedy, who “is the last of her direct family, but she has an enormous extended family. They are very close, very supportive. I think this is very fortunate.”
And that’s especially true for me because I have my wife of 48 years, six loving children and their spouses and 20 grandchildren. And I have my wife’s family as well.
So, unlike those who may not be as blessed with so much extended family, I don’t really have the loneliness or the time to feel sorry for myself.
But I still miss my brother, and I thank God I got to talk to him on the phone a few days before he was suddenly gone. And I’ve written down some of my memories so they’ll still be around when I’m gone, too.
Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.