A Eulogy for my Great Aunt Alice

Her hands are dry and wrinkly, and she smells like old people, but she doesn’t set off my usual desire to run away and hide before the cheek pinches and kisses approach. I love her positive attitude and I love being washed in her good energy. Her big, child like smile emerges as the deafening vibration of the stereo engulfs me in sound, and she places her hand on the stereo to feel the vibration. My mother and other relatives would be upset at how loud it was, but I knew how important music was to her, so I would ignore them and pretend I was deaf and put my hand on the stereo too. Aunt Alice and I would then get up and sing and dance to the music, and sing however we wanted to. This is how I will always envision her. A bouncy, energetic woman in her 80s.

My brother and I adored it when she baby-sat, and I remember being upset when she would just watch my brother, and I had to go somewhere with one of my parents. We learned to speak the language her mother invented and taught to her. My Great Aunt Alice was born deaf to a mother who was ill, at a time when there were no accommodations for the disabled. Her mother and her developed their own sign language, which the whole family learned in order to communicate with her. She also gave various people nicknames.

Aunt Alice had an angelic laugh, and her face always lit up like it was Christmas when she was excited. The last time I saw her, she was excited and happy. We bought clothes for her when we visited Syria the last time, and she modeled them, and danced around the house showing them off.

Aunt Alice was an absolutely incredibly smart human being who stayed happy and child-like throughout her life. I’ve wondered whether she had special abilities because she always seemed to know everything that was going on, even if we didn’t sign it in front of her. Her beautiful, angelic face was very expressive, and every small emotion lit her face up like fireworks and I would stare at her for hours as she gestured and spoke.

Aunt Alice lived in a great community, surrounded by family and neighbors who always took care of each other.She was brilliant and could school anyone.

I have a cousin who is probably around 18 years old now, and she is officially the most fluent speaker of Alice Sign Language. That’s right, with Aunt Alice’s passing, we stand to lose a language spoken by a very small group of people that are alive today. Hopefully, I can someday document the language on video and have it as a family treasure.

Aunt Alice taught me that a disability is not a disadvantage and merely another way of being. She grew up in an age where people felt shame and fear because of disability, but her resilience carried her through all of it and gave her a wonderful life.

Aunt Alice taught me to appreciate music on multiple levels. I still enjoy hugging speakers to feel the vibration. I still appreciate the importance of drums. I love to dance to the beat of the drum in my head because Aunt Alice never cared how she looked to anyone who saw her dance. I also learned that anytime is a good time to put on music and dance.

Aunt Alice taught me that nonverbal communication is the most important part. This is how I learned to pick up facial cues, and how I first realized that for someone who couldn’t really speak, she had a lot to say without moving her hands or her mouth.

Aunt Alice taught me that being positive and loving everyone no matter what was going on in your life. Even if something upset her and she frowned, her smile would quickly flood her face. As I age, I really hope I get the beautiful smiley wrinkles that she had.

Aunt Alice taught me that anytime is a good time to put on your best clothes and play dress up.

Aunt Alice taught me that its okay to invent your own language and names for things and people, because it helps you remember them better.

I can still feel the texture of her hand and smell her and feel her wonderful energy. I hope her funeral is fit for a queen because I know that she would want to go out in style, with dancing, laughter, happiness, and joy. So I am going to dedicate the next few times I dance to her memory, and blast some heavy bass beats in the hopes that she hears them, wherever she is, and thinks of me.

Aunt Alice, I love you!

UPDATE – Today I got a great message from a cousin of mine.

Stephanie Schneebeli September 17 at 3:15pm

Hi Layal… I have a couple of pictures I would like to share. Could you be so kind and post them on your blog? Thank you.

The Pictures were taken on July 16th 2010. Probably the last evening where all of her close family was gathered in one place. That evening we celebrated her birthday, which took place quite spontaneously. We didn’t know the exact date of her birthday, but somehow we all had the feeling that it would be the last possibility to do so… There is also a video, where we all sing for her in the same way she used to sing.

Thank you for making this in memory to our grand aunt Alice, who we all cherished and loved…

She will live on in our hearts, forever…

I miss you 3amme ♥

Thank you so much for sending these Stephanie, they made my day!

From Stephanie,

Here’s another picture that was taken on July 27th 2010 with my cousin Sima and me. As you can see, she was all dressed up that day… 🙂 she looked so pretty ♥

A video of her birthday party:


2 thoughts on “A Eulogy for my Great Aunt Alice

  1. Layal this is so beautiful! thank you for sharing this. I am sure wherever she is she is happy and dancing and thinking of all of you. 🙂 xo

  2. Aunt Alice, or how we used to call her “Amme”, was a huge inspiration for me. She has lived 93 years of her life, without having ever heard how life sounded like. But most importantly she wouldn’t hear all the worries and trouble in this world, that was not avoidable for us to hear. This made her such a happy person, every single day of her life. She enjoyed life.

    Here are some of my personal stories that I’d like to share with you. Some are years old, some are very recent…

    I basically grew up with her and her language. Already as a little child, I learned how to communicate with her and we would spend the nicest moments together. She loved to play cards with me. I have to admit that i let her win most of the time, just to see this smile on her face. One day she brought me a stack of old pictures that turned out to be pictures of herself with her classmate in a deaf school. She was such a beauty. And in my eyes she looked gorgeous, even after 93 years.

    Only 2 months ago I was sitting next to her. She looked at me, took my hand and told me “please stay here with me for a little while…” Of course I would stay with her and sometimes she would fall asleep. When she didn’t feel very good and didn’t have the force to do anything I would bring her some food and feed it to her, spoon by spoon. After that she would look at me with this look on her face that said “thank you for everything”…

    The hardest moment would have been when i had to say goodbye to her knowing that it might be the last time i’d see her. She would beg me to stay but i would tell her that i have to go back to school, that i have to study so I would become something she could be proud of. And she would always tell me “No, stay here! We have schools here as well. In switzerland the schools are not very good anyways, come here. Here we have the best schools!” It broke my heart when I walked out of that house…

    I remember her laugh. She laughed so much in the last couple of months. She would find something funny and laugh for 10 minutes straight on. The next day I would tell her “remember yesterday, when you laughed so hard about this and that..?” and she would remember and laugh again… And we would all be happy to see her in such a good mood. Sometimes she would even start singing and put her hands up and move them with the rithm of her singing.

    I could go on and on with my memories but I will post them step by step…

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