She was loud, and effusive, and believed in tight, lengthy, full-body hugs. When she talked to you, she gave you her full attention, and often grabbed your arm when she responded. She loved hosting and attending loud, chaotic family holidays, and when she entered a room, you knew it. You saw her (the female version of my Dad), you heard her, and there was no mistaking it because she was swooping in for a big, wet kiss: Aunt Barbara's here!
She was a sister, a wife, a cousin, an aunt, and a mother to five children. Then she was a mother to four. The loss of her son when he was eighteen changed her permanently, but years later, she'd still grab your arm, enfold you in the full-body hug (even tighter now) and swoop in for the big, wet smooch.
My father's older and only sister, Aunt Barbara was a common fixture in my home growing up. She lived two hours away so I'm sure we didn't get together as often as I think we did, but I remember being kept awake many a night by raucous laughter, wine-soaked singing and bad guitar-playing (usually to songs they'd made up). Old pictures usually depict she, my uncle, and my parents holding up beer bottles or wine glasses, grinning, arms around each other and various string instruments. Pictures of we the cousins had the same grins (beer bottles likely were hidden under the table). Remembering my aunt and her loving family laughing at our house or theirs always intermingled with memories of going to my cousin's funeral and the years that followed. Happiness mixed right in with shock and sadness.
She went on with her life; they all did. She lived to see many more years and lots of grandchildren. Then came the breast cancer diagnosis, and like a houseguest overstaying her welcome, that cancer moved right in and took over. As if she hadn't been dealt her fair share of sadness and tragedy.
They had moved to California by then for a change of scenery, so I was unable to see her in those final days or even go to her service with my parents. If she was anything like she was in the old days, she was thankful for the good days she had, and was still grabbing arms for emphasis and hugging as tightly as she was able.
She was my aunt, and she was loud, funny, and full of life. I'll be thinking of her when I walk on October 18th, channeling just a bit of her joie de vivre.