It’s all relative when it comes to relatives

Published 11:15 pm Saturday, July 18, 2009

When it comes to modern-day families, sometimes the typical labels just don’t apply and cannot fully encapsulate the depth of a relationship.

Grandparents become parents. Cousins are more like brothers. Non-relatives forge bonds as strong or even stronger than many blood ties.

And that was the way it went with my great aunt Elizabeth Daphene Powell. The strong-willed, independent lady that still lived on her own and worked at least three days a week passed away at the age of 80 last week.

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It was a painful phone call to take and a surprising one too. She had been relatively healthy, so the phrase “sudden heart attack” certainly was exactly that.

While her technical title may have been great aunt that certainly doesn’t do Daphene or her impact on my life and my family’s lives justice.

Like most everyone else, our family tree didn’t exactly grow straight and true. It might be more of a vine, really.

See, my mother was basically raised by her grandmother, Daphene’s mother. Somewhat sadly, this has become far too common today, but wasn’t nearly as prevalent in the late 1950s.

And because of the age gap, Daphene was far more like a mom to my own mother. Once my great-great grandmother passed away Daphene filled that grandmotherly role and has for years.

She continued to be instrumental in my mom’s life and also in my young family’s.

Daphene never let a milestone pass by without words of encouragement or praise. High school graduation? She was there. College? You got it. Marriage? Sure was. Birth of a child? Just as soon as she was able.

I was blessed to have spent a little time with her just days before she passed away. She had gone out to dinner with my mom and came to the Paramount to watch my younger brother’s band, the Genuine Junk Band, perform.

Even though it may not be quite up her country-and-western alley, she has supported them for years and toe-tapped her way through the whole show. When asked if she wanted to call it an early night, a stern look quickly dismissed that notion.

In addition to a generosity and commitment to help others, it is her determination and self-reliance — the same tenacity that allowed her to overcome polio as a young girl — is what I will take away most from her.

I’m sure that everyone has relatives with relationships like this, where the actual title is, well, relative.

So to say that I lost my aunt doesn’t really explain it.

I lost a great aunt — and she was exactly that, a GREAT aunt — but she was also so much more.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at