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  • Writer's pictureLoren Niemi




My oldest cousin Duane, died on February 20th. Cancer. Woke up one morning paralyzed from the shoulders down, diagnosed with stage four bone cancer, he had a little over a month from discovery to death. He was a generous man – offering time, energy, knowledge, hand-made pizzas cooked in his little wood oven beside the house. The last time I saw him, just before the pandemic, we talked about a trip to Finland. He spoke the language and had been there several times to meet our old country cousins. If I go now, remembering him will be a part of every conversation. 


My extended family is getting thin. Of my uncle Aino’s offspring, Darrel, Jean and Duane have passed, leaving only my cousin Donnie, now retired from years with the Chisolm Public Works and living in Hibbing. Of my aunt Sadie’s offspring, Penny, the oldest, passed last year leaving sisters, Nancy and Patsy. Of my father’s offspring, myself, brother John, sisters Barbara, Joann and Judy are still alive. The only one to have transitioned, was my youngest sister, Bobbie. An aneurism. A shock.


On Sunday, The Christine got word that her sister, Kathleen had passed after a heart attack. Her mother died of leukemia in 2020. Her brother, Steve, in 2022. Both deaths complicated by the pandemic. And Kathleen in 2024, leaving Christine and her older sister Maureen.


My generation is getting thin. Folks I went to high school and college with. Folks I worked with in my checkered career. Storytellers. Yes, I know it is the way of the world. We are all getting older. We all live until we die but that does not make the individual moment of loss easier. As Oliver Sacks said, “When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate - the genetic and neural fate - of every human to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”


 As winter comes to a sputtering end (though here in the Twin Cities it was the warmest one in many decades) I am thinking about that dynamic. The kind of snow pictured above has not been the hallmark of the season. The natural cycle of living and dying of which the Equinox is a metaphoric hinge marking the shift from the fallow to the fecund. The planet spins and wobbles, the seasons manifest the fact of it. Death comes as it must - heart attack, cancer, pneumonia. Accident. In a few instances, murder or suicide - as surely as the seasons, but in most cases, we are surprised when it finally arrives. Too soon. The list of those who have gone is long and with each year grows.


At my age I should expect that, and do. Still, I find myself missing them. Saying their names. Don Byrne, Gregory, Melisande Charles. Telling their stories. Father, mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my daughter, Hannah. Each one recalled from the indistinct mist of gone in large and small glimpses. I am becoming a compendium of lives lived and moments within those lives when the ordinary act of living was that. Now those small moments become catalogues of times and places, people made present in the meaning of these stories if not in the fact of them.


As Carl Jung said, “The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question which is addressed to the world, and I must communicate my answer...” My speaking the names and the lives of those who have passed is a way of answering Jung while also answering those fundamental questions that Tolstoy laid out: what is the most important time? Who is the most important person? What is the most important thing to do?


It is not a burden. It is a measure of the love and appreciation I had and still have for who they were, what they did and brought to the world. After all the most important time is now, the most important person is the one you are with, and the most important thing is to do as much good in the now as possible. If a story or poem can remind us of that, so much the better.


This missive is leaning towards shorter rather than longer. Why not take some of the time you might have spent reading this to name your own dear and departed?


Here is the seed I am planting today in hopes that it will bloom in all of us: may you live in the present, doing good to those you are with. 



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