I spent the weekend with Maga and my mom and my aunt/uncles. It was, as it has been for the past five years, amazing getting to sit back and watch my mom be a sister rather than a mom. Watching my mom and aunt/uncles remember old times, revert to habitual familiar roles, learn each other anew.

Meanwhile Maga’s memory’s gotten worse and worse, as evidenced when we were all sitting in her room chatting and watching TV and she dozed off only to awaken a few minutes later, look around, and declare, “When’d you all arrive?”

The humor and the sorrow balanced each other out.

And tonight, as I chatted with Maga while in a taxi home, Maga’s memory was better than average, yet her words were slightly less so. “I was so glad to see you and the other nice relatives this weekend.”

It’s a tough balance to maintain: one where Maga is fading, but the other members of the family remain vibrant and hilarious. One where she’s accepted her fate and we’re equal parts sad with memories and happy with forward momentum. One where she remains grounded and we (Uncle P and me) are up in the sky floating and living and seeking new paths forward. One where the roots Maga planted are strong and healthy and are the foundation for this life she started…it’s up to us to continue onward, even though she’s 98 and even as she asked me,” How can anyone be that old?”

“With style,” I said.

And we all can only hope to mirror that sentiment.



“Are you going on a trip soon?” Maga asked.

“Yes! To visit YOU, Maga!”

“Well, no. Not that.”

I deflated a bit. “It’s a big trip, Maga! I thought you’d be excited about it?!”

“Well, I am,” she said. But clearly she wasn’t.

Oof. Some of her turns of phrase… they cut.

We talked further and she clarified she was excited about my coming to visit her; it’s just that she wasn’t excited about her lack of memory of who had a big trip coming up.

She kept up the questions. I kept not having answers. “Maga. People tell you more things than they do me.”


“Yes, truly. You’re the gossip queen.”

“I am?”

“Yes. For real. No one tells me anything. I’m the last to know always.”



“You mean people tell me more things?”


With that settled, she veered back to the course of the prior conversation. Having had some space, I quickly realized she meant Sister E and her upcoming trip, which I was happy to gush about.

“Do people in far off countries know how to use computers?” Maga asked, each word dripped with incredulity.

“In fact, they do.”

“Well, thank goodness for Thomas Edison who invented the telephone so we can keep in touch.”

I didn’t have the heart to correct her because nearly every word was punctuated by a cough. “Are you feeling okay, Maga?” I asked. “That cough sounds different than usual.”

“Yes, I know. This has gotten ahold of me or I’ve gotten ahold of it.”

Some of her turns of phrase…man, they get me. It’s like she’s got an accent or something because nearly everything she says sounds more interesting, not to mention, I didn’t know germs could sound so charming!



“Did you try to call me just now?” Maga said.

“I did. But the phone was weird. Your answering machine didn’t pick up.”

“I was on the other line.”

“Talking to anyone I know?”

“An old neighbor friend.”

“Oh, that’s so nice! How is she?”

“Well, she’s having trouble with one of her doctors and wanted to tell somebody about it.”

“Oh, umm, that’s not so nice.”

“Hold on, Abby dear. It’s the changing of the guard.” I then spent the better part of 10 minutes “on hold” while Maga said goodbye to one caregiver and hello to the next one. And by “on hold” I mean she put the phone in her lap and I eavesdropped on the entire conversation. It’s probably best I did because the night caregiver arrived slightly late, which always sets Maga in a tizzy, so I was able to get the lay of the land and turned up the sunshine in my voice a few extra notches.

“Hello? Abby?”

“Yes, I’m still here. Hi, Maga.”

“Are you there?”


“I don’t know this new lady.” Her voice was frazzled, though her words were confident.

“She’s been there before on multiple Saturdays. You’re in good hands.”

“I don’t remember her.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been there. It just means you’re almost 98…”

That got the chuckle I was hoping for.

“What have you been up to lately?”

“I was down in NC visiting my Aunt A.”

“Oh, yes! I liked her very much when we knew each other. It was awhile ago. I’d love to see her again.”

I thought about how they probably hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in decades, but how Maga still wanted her to visit. Or how she was willing to quiet her own complaining to listen to the gripes of her elderly neighbor. My heart ached with the loneliness she must be feeling. I turned the sunshine in my voice up a few more notches, as I detailed my father’s family tree for her.

“Is work going well?” Maga asked.

“Sure.” (I said desperately clinging onto the sunshine…)

“That’s sort of yes.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, that’s how we’ll put it for now.”

And with that new definition, I felt better. The sunshine in my voice wasn’t forced for the remainder of our time together.


3.8.19 – 3.10.19

This isn’t a conversation with Maga, but it is a post about family.

My Aunt A had floated the idea of her giving me her mother’s china. She described it as simple but elegant. Creamy colored with gold accents and a rose in the middle. Would I like it? Knowing these bare details was more than enough for me to accept. The only catch was that I had to go visit her to view all the pieces and make sure I understood what I was getting myself into.

HA HA HA HA. That’s the catch? A weekend with my aunt and her husband? Down south in the middle of winter? (Yes, in Boston, March is a winter month.) Sign me up for this most delightful catch ever!

The china was lined up on their dining room table in all its glory. And it was glorious. The rose shining brightly on each piece of Rosemary’s china. The cranberry hue of the crystal glasses and the various shapes glasses don’t come in anymore. The delicately painted dessert plates.

The weight of responsibility settled over me. I could admire its beauty but was I worthy of it?

Aunt A went through each piece telling me about them as best she could. Her mother hadn’t acquired it all at once, but rather piece by piece over time. The china pattern itself is still produced today, but the crystal is not, nor are the dessert plates. The history of the pieces was thick in the room. Then we went through gaggles of pictures Aunt L had scanned and sent over, taking care to fawn over the pictures (usually Easter meals) where the china and crystal ware were being used.

Liz ayliffe van and rosemary at dinner table

Hearing these tales of those who came before me grounded me and helped me to understand more about myself and who has shaped me.

A little tingle started in my heart as the plates began to come alive.

Throughout the weekend, we spent much time in her kitchen. My Aunt A is a whiz, you see, in the kitchen. Any meal, all meals, A+. I was happy to sous chef in hopes some of that greatness and fearlessness would reach me through osmosis. The skills and proper cookware and perfect kitchen layout have yet to kick in, but what did stick is the purposeful way she moves around. The confident way she handles each ingredient. The way she reads through the recipes beforehand as if they’re a juicy novel.

And the way she always thinks ahead.

In preparation for the weekend, she’d asked me what foods I like and don’t. In preparation for the transition of a family heirloom, she shared its history. In preparation for me continuing to grow into adulthood and self-confidence, she tricked me into being successful in the kitchen as she stood nearby. In preparation for the transfer of the rose china from one owner to another, we had a meal of epic proportions on them.

I’d been learning about all the other meals on these plates, but now it was time to create one more memory. They were done being stored away. They were accessible and now in rotation.

My heart nearly burst at the transition. At the continued generosity of my aunt. At the amazing flavors of the dinner we’d prepared. At the friendly faces next to me at the table. At the way the plates shimmered in the candlelight. At the contradiction of super duper fancy china and regular silverware + glasses. At the thought this is okay to do it this way this is how I’ll use them this is me.

At the way these plates now felt like mine.



“How are YOU?” I asked.

“Coming up on 100,” Maga said.

Her downtrodden tone led me to, perhaps overbrightly say, “But that’s super exciting!”

“It is big,” she agreed hesitantly. “But I try not to get too undone about it.”

“I think you’re allowed.”

“Have you done anything interesting in a playful way?” She abruptly changed the subject. I guess closing in on 100 has left her subtleties by the wayside.

“Nope. Not so much.” I, also not so subtly, gave her no leeway. But also, I haven’t done anything interesting lately…well, scratch that. Anything interesting that she’d understand. I DID happen to take 3rd place in Beer Olympics this past weekend, but considering I had to repeat myself ad nauseum up to this point, I didn’t feel up to the taste of explaining drinking games to her or the fact I’m 38, unmarried, and sans children. (Not unhappily BTW but that’s another explanation I wasn’t up to either.)

“How long have you been at your job?” Maga tried again to engage me.

“12 years.”


“Why’s that?”

“That’s an awfully long time.”

“I’m a stable girl.”

I wanted to point her in the direction of the previous comment where I’d done nothing “of interest in a playful way” lately…stability = boring = not much to discuss on a Tuesday night. When you’ve lived close to 100 years, I guess you’re entitled to expect everyone else provide entertainment, but when you’re only close to 40, you have to provide your own entertainment, and since I haven’t been doing that in a manner appropriate for a 98yo to hear about, it left us in a rather boring loop. One I could only get out of by promising her I’d see her in less than a month for her 98th birthday. Hopefully that weekend we’ll both live life to the fullest so we can regal each other with (the same) tales.