I’ve realized for some time that I’m getting to the stage of life where mortality sets in. But it becomes even more real when those in the next generation begin to pass before we do.

It was just over a week ago that I received a phone call from my cousin Joan Bailey (her married name, no relation) relaying the news of the death of Rochelle “Shelli” Spriggs. She was my oldest maternal cousin once removed, the daughter of my oldest first cousin Elaine Russo and her first husband, the late Harold Ramsperger.

Shelli, living in Huson, Montana, was 72, 10 years younger than I. As it was told to me, she had been caregiver to her husband, Larry, who is about my age, the process taking a toll on her own health as she contracted pneumonia, which proved fatal.

Most of our Miller clan were born and grew up in Minnesota. Shelli, who actually was born in Anderson, was Elaine’s firstborn, survived by siblings Diane Covher, Debbie Fisher, Jay Ramsperger and their spouses. She was one of several of her generation, including two of my kids, to attend what is now Anderson University. It was sometime after she married Larry Spriggs in 1974 that they moved to Montana, their home in the rural western part of the Big Sky State, about midway between Missoula and the Idaho line.

Jay is the only one of the entire Miller clan still living in Minnesota. Diane and Debbie reside in North Carolina, as does Elaine with husband Lew.

Rochelle was not the first of her generation to precede her mom’s. To the best of my knowledge there have been at least two other progeny from our horde of 18 cousins, in addition to a couple of stillbirths.

The natural order of things, though, causes us to sit up and take notice when an offspring precedes their parents. Time passes, and though eight of my generation have preceded us, 10 have been blessed with longevity. Elaine, oldest child of the Frendt family who is now in her 10th decade, outlived her siblings.

While it has been decades since I last saw Shelli, my maternal family has always been close. My mom was one of eight children of Fred and Emma Miller, and with 18 offspring following, continuation of the Miller line is a given. Unfortunately I haven’t been as close with my dad’s side since he died when I was just 11, but quite a few Baileys are keeping my paternal line going as well.

It causes us to pause when we realize how fast the clock is ticking. Elaine was the first of my maternal cousins to marry and the first to have a child, Shelli actually being a year older than my youngest first cousin, Jane Geske Twite.

Life goes on. It is sobering, however, when the inevitable occurs and we say goodbye to loved ones along the way.

Jim Bailey’s column appears Thursdays in the Herald Bulletin. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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