For the second time in my life, today I felt what it was like to read an email sent by someone no longer living. It's an odd feeling to know they are in your address book but that any email sent their way will go unanswered. You can also look back at the last 2 or 3 things they sent and read them as if the messages were new. Their email address still exists, though someone else (or an auto-response script) will be bouncing the bad news from here on out.
To be quite honest, my extended family feels a lot like my extended neighbors, or any large set of strangers I've spent time with. There are a few standout pals, a sea of unknowns, and a real bastard or two all lurking among the crowd. Sure we all share a bit more body chemistry than a group of strangers, but I've never felt particularly close to people simply based on genetics.
One of the standout pals among the strangers was my great aunt (grandmother's sister on my dad's side). She spent most of her life as an educator, researching how children and the developmentally disabled learned going back into the 60s. Very early on I could tell she was different than all the other family members I knew. She stressed learning above all else and I remember during the times I got to spend with her that she taught me an important life lesson. She taught me that doing the minimum to fulfill a requirement was only doing an ordinary amount of work, and while that was satisfactory, putting in a bit more effort would yield extraordinary results. "Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary" has carried with me since I was a kid.
She was the first grown up to teach me it was ok to be smart, that excelling at what you do was important and commendable, and that other people's opinion of you didn't really matter.
I'm going to miss my Aunt Molly. I can't make the funeral this weekend, and I haven't seen her in person in almost two years, but I did get to talk to her on the phone a couple weeks ago and I planned a trip to see her at the end of this month so we could catch up. However, she went from initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to death in just a few weeks, surprising us all. She's gone but her lessons live on in my life and I'll continue to do my best passing them along to others. So long Molly, I love you and will miss you greatly.