All those days are gone.

You may remember me speaking every so often about my great-aunt, who I go see every Saturday to visit, bring groceries, and do some cleaning. I even did a post once about the crazy grocery store in her area with the colorful cast of characters. Well, last night after a brief downturn (the longer catalyst being congestive heart failure) she passed away.

When I moved back to my home city in the summer of 2007, I was hardly here three days before I volunteered to take her to the doctor so my dad wouldn't have to miss work. Almost right away she enlisted me to come by the house Tuesdays and Thursdays (since I didn't have a job then) in much the same capacity as I have been doing. Once I did find a job, that October, I reduced it to every other Saturday. In 2008 I took a hiatus from helping her for a while, just midsummer into fall, and by Election Day I was back in the saddle. I went every Saturday for over a year, only missing one week as I was in North Carolina.

She went into the hospital exactly two weeks ago after it became much too hard for her to get around with all the pain caused by her swollen legs. The pain had been increasing since Thanksgiving, and I guess her body saw it as a good time to go ahead and turn things over to God.

She was eighty-five years old. Up until literally just two months ago, she was still cooking for herself--good meals, too--and doing some sporadic cleaning during the week. She loved watching CNN, which she discovered after Young and the Restless finally started to bore her. (If I never see that Saturday afternoon news crew again, it will be too soon) And she was a talker. Boy, was she a talker. She only had two books in the house, one being the Bible. Pretty much the exact opposite of me. So I mostly sat and smiled while she went on.

She never lost any teeth, never became incontinent, and never for a moment lost any of the sharpness of her mind. Just last fall my dad arranged cataract surgery for her, and her eyesight so greatly improved it was like seeing the world anew all over again, and she didn't need glasses anymore. In the nineties, nearly ten years after she quit smoking, she got lung cancer, but fully recovered. She also had diabetes but never any complications. She didn't even take insulin.

She was the last of her seven brothers and sisters to die. The one before her was my grandmother, my father's mother, in 2001. I am much more like my grandmother. Some days, while listening to my great-aunt talk, I would wonder why my grandmother had to go away before I was fully grown and knew how to appreciate the wisdom she had to give. I didn't resent my great-aunt. I just wish there was more time.

My great-aunt married at the age of nineteen to a man named Lawrence, who enlisted right away into the army and served in WWII. He died in Italy in 1944, barely two years after their marriage.

The uncle I remember is Uncle Phil from Mississippi, a really down-to-earth, extremely nice person. He passed away in his sleep in December of 1990.

She had been without the first love of her life for sixty-five years, and the last, for twenty years.

This past November, I for the first time discovered photo albums in her bedroom. We sat on her bed and looked through them for over an hour. I saw Lawrence for the first time (extremely handsome, as I should have guessed). She had a letter from the War Department near the albums, in a cardboard tube, and we pulled it out and looked at it. It was signed (stamped) by Franklin Roosevelt. It contained a very solemn, eloquent message about the courage of all soldiers and the gratitude of the nation. It listed his date of death as November 14, 1944.

"But," I said slowly, "but today is November fourteenth!"

"Why, it sure is," she said.

Not to get too mystical, but how interesting that exactly sixty-five years after his death we would find the certificate and look at his photographs. Even though her health had not begun to decline at that point, I did wonder for a brief moment if this was some sort of harbinger, something that we were being told.

After so many, many months of going to see her, listening to her, learning about her history and the family's, it is so strange to know that I will never again spend my Saturday afternoons at her house, never again change the bed, taking care to fold envelope corners; never use the ancient vacuum or dust around all her little elephant figurines. Never sit forcibly enthralled by CNN, or hear another story about times and places that now seem so real to me. The folding of the clothes is done. The house sits immaculate but empty. All those days are gone.


1 comment:

Liz said...

Memories are indeed a blessing