I spent the weekend driving to Massachusetts and back in order to sit for a few hours with my cousins.

We grew up together, five children with three parents, in a suburb west of Boston. My aunt and uncle and cousins in their house, my mother and brother and I in one just like it, two blocks away. My mom relied heavily on my uncle (who was her brother), and we kids often seemed more like siblings than cousins.

Although I spent a great deal of time around her, in the complicated calculus of family dynamics I didn’t really get to know my aunt Esther until I was edging into middle age.

I was 28 and still trying to find my path in life. My grandmother had just died and left a small bit of money — enough, if I was careful, to take me across the ocean to see Stonehenge and the Acropolis, and to visit family in the place of my birth, the land that so many people call Holy. That last destination wasn’t really my idea, at the time, but my mother made visiting Israel a condition of the funding. I still think she was hoping I would find a nice Jewish guy to marry.

I was away from the States for half a year and spent five months in the beautiful and dysfunctional setting of the Bible (new and old), the source of much of what we call Western history. The first Hebrew I heard spoken on arrival was an argument between cab drivers, one trying to shout down the other by repeating loudly the word, “Shema,” which means “listen” and is also the first word of Judaism’s central prayer.

At that time my aunt, uncle and a cousin had an apartment in Jerusalem, and they made me welcome, not just to stay there but to use as a base while exploring. They invited me to show up any time and stay as I needed, sharing their nightly news, Turkish coffee, and wide-ranging discussion. I came to know my aunt as a patient listener who remembered everything I told her and was always curious to hear the next installment of my life story.

That visit opened up to me my cultural, political and personal history and taught me the limits of unquestioning belief in anything, including science and human consensus.

My aunt’s patience, interest, and curiosity stayed vibrantly present for as long as she lived, which turned out to be the 94 years that ended Thanksgiving weekend in a Massachusetts elder condo. She was the last of her generation in my family.

Sitting with my cousins and watching the large-screen scroll of images that spanned almost 100 years — pictures showing a life that started in old-world, stiff-posed sepia and ended in November — I was surprised by how beautifully vivid their mother was during the time I first knew her, during the days of my self-absorbed youth, when she seemed to me simply a woman in an apron who offered tuna salad and cleaned her home with oil and lemon juice while listening to classical music on the radio.

There were some copies of the obituary circulating, and I read that, too. It described a personal history and an artistic and intellectual life far richer than the one I had imagined for her. My aunt had strong opinions and was deeply interested in the political behavior of humanity. The conversations we had during my twice-or-thrice-yearly visits often included rhetorical questions as to the foolish and even dangerous actions and words of those charged with guiding nations and societies. We did not always agree but we were always ready to sit down with a cup of tea and continue the conversation. According to her grandchildren, the last straw for the slender sinew of illuminated life that was my aunt came with the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

She was of the generation that brought abortion out of basements and alleyways and into the clean spaces of the late 20th century. Like so many important efforts, their success has been taken for granted; our collective memories are too short and our projections toward the possibilities of the future often look less than a generation ahead.

The slides continued to flash by on the giant TV in the apartment-house common room. Bagels are spread with cream cheese; coffee is consumed. There are awkward hugs and warm ones. Middle-aged children see their own faces in images of those who died before their parents were born. Perspective enters the room.

For the youngest cousins, those “removed” in generational parlance, the speckled hand I extend may just be creepy — an old great-aunt (whatever that means) seeing herself in their youth. Family persists, whether recognized or not and continues long after we are gone.

Shlomit Auciello is an award-winning writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a bi-weekly basis.