Monday, February 1, 2010

Saint Aunt

The story goes that I was a baby - a few months old (6? 7?) and my parents were living with my paternal grandparents and my aunts. Everyday Saint Aunt would come home from work and say, "Hi Tadoons!" (Grandma used to sing a song to me of nonsense words that apparently went something like, "Hey tadoon, ho tadoon, duna, duna, duna dune.") One day she walked in and said, "Hi Tadoons!" and I said, "Hi Tadoons!" right back at her. That was our first conversation - and we kept on talking, talking, talking to each other pretty much up until she died.

Saint Aunt and I never ran out of things to say to each other and we always managed to make each other laugh. Even (maybe especially) during some of the hardest times, we could crack jokes and make each other smile or laugh or just stop and see things another way.

I went through some rough teenage years...well my early twenties too. Believe me folks, you reap what you sow with kids. If you put them through a tumultuous childhood, create uncertainty and fear in them - it will all come pouring out in very strange ways during the teen years. I was a mess, and it was hard for me to internalize any sense of love and stability. I could hear people say they loved me, I could see them struggling to reign me in - but I couldn't FEEL the love, couldn't understand the need for restraint.

My parents, who loved me, but were SO unprepared for me, were too often at a loss as to what to do about or for me. Many times they threw their hands up, unable to reach me. Other times, they were too at odds with each other to find common ground for handling me. At those times my precious Saint Aunts came to the rescue. Saint Aunt 2 with her quiet fortitude, was just there - picking me, driving me places, just being solid and peaceful. But it was Saint Aunt who broke through the mixed up fog of emotions, hormones and confused thoughts to get through to me.
Saint Aunt is the only person I've ever met who could curse you out and make you feel completely loved and cared for at the same time. She could call you names, tease you, and tell you ALL about yourself and you knew she loved you with all her heart and that made what she had to say easier to hear. It's because everything she said, everything she did, came straight from her heart. She spoke what she felt, right or wrong. And because there was never any doubt that her heart was ALWAYS in the right place - even when you disagreed with what she had to say - you loved her for saying it.

One of my favorite stories about Saint Aunt as a kids is that whenever she did something wrong, my grandmother would ask her about it, and she would admit it - flat out. Or sometimes she'd say things, knowing full well they would get her in trouble, but she just had to speak her mind. Whenever she would get in trouble, rather than being allowed to go out and play in the street with her siblings and friends, she would be sent to sit in the backyard. Saint Aunt was fine with this because their neighbor - a German baker - would sneak treats to her across the yards. So early on, Saint Aunt's desire t o speak her mind and her love of baked goods were nurtured and encouraged.

And those loves never ended. Some of my favorite memories in recent years are of her sitting in her chair at the kitchen table, next to the window where she could look out and see what the neighbors were getting up to. She would have all the ingredients for baking yummy cookies or cakes or cobblers on the table. My two girls would be her assistants - making more mess than actually helping. And the whole time, between giving the girls instructions, Saint Aunt would be telling me her thoughts about who did what, when and with whom - or telling me about myself ("The girls look adorable, but you look like shit! Would you do something about yourself").

The thing is, not only did she have an opinion she was going to share - but she knew EVERYTHING that was going on. Everyone in the family seemed to make sure that Saint Aunt knew what was going on with them, and she would pass the information on to everyone else. It was very rare that I ever knew about anything going on in the family if I didn't learn it from Saint Aunt.
Even in the hospital. Even when she couldn't speak - she was still the first to know. Still the one to pass the news along. Many times I would get to the hospital and decipher what she was barely able to scribble out on a pad to discover that some relative or another was coming to town. I would then ask other visitors - "Did you know so and so was coming?" And again and again, I would get the response that no, they didn't know. But sure enough, the relative would show up on the day and time that Saint Aunt said they would, and eventually we would discover the source of the information that she passed along.

I fear that so much family news will get lost now that Saint Aunt is gone. How will we keep information flowing between us. Facebook is great but it's no Saint Aunt.

My last six months with Saint Aunt have been the most enlightening and fulfilling months of my life. I have discovered more about love, about hope, about fear, about spirit and about clearly seeing and appreciating what you have than I learned in all the previous years of my life.

I have always had a rocky relationship with my mother. I love her very much, and certainly there have been times when it was fun and exciting to have a mother who was so young, hip and beautiful. But too often I wished for a more traditional mom. A mother who could nurture and hold, who could accept me for who I am, who could give openly of herself and bestow unconditional love in abundance. A mother who I could talk to about anything, without fear of being ridiculed or reprimanded. A mother who would be grandmotherly to my children. Indulging them and holding them and baking yummy treats. As much as I longed for this, for years I believed that it was just an empty wish - one of those fairy tale ideals - like prince charming - that you wish existed, but know doesn't.

Then one day in early September I went with Saint Aunt to have a test done at the neurologist's office. While we were waiting for the doctor to come in, we were making jokes and telling stories. Laughing with each other. I can't remember the conversation, but I think I was telling Saint Aunt about something that I probably wouldn't share with most people and she was teasing me about it. When the doctor walked in we were laughing and she noted how we always seemed to be in good moods when we visited her - always laughing and talking together. Saint Aunt said, "You know, we spend a lot of time together, but it seems like we never run out of things to say to each other and we can always laugh." And it hit me, right there at that moment in the doctors office, just as Saint Aunt was about to take this horribly painful test - SHE was everything I'd ever wished for in a mother. Everything that I had ever wanted my mother to be, every way that I wished to be treated, every kind of bond I'd dreamed of - I had in Saint Aunt. All my life I'd wanted something that I'd had - I just didn't know because it was in another package, under another name.

The thing is, some part of me should have known. All my life, wherever I went with Saint Aunt, people asked if I was her daughter. In fact, when I was very little, we think the people at her job thought she was covering something up when she told them I was her brother's daughter, because I have always looked so much like her. It's amazing that I went my whole life without fully realizing all she was to me. I'm just happy that it clicked for me that day in the doctor's office. That was a gift that I will cherish every single moment of every single day for the rest of my life.

And the gifts abounded over the next few months from that day to this. Saint Aunt's illness was a struggle for her, for all of us, but it was a blessing for me as well. Being there with her through all the ups and downs and struggles, fighting with doctors, making demands of nurses, cleaning her, checking her care, brushing her hair, feeding her, holding her, giving whatever comfort I could - those were presents to me. Having the opportunity to give back to her, to care for her a small, minute fraction of all she gave to me and my children was another gift I will hold dear for all my days.

Saint Aunt's last gift to me was on Christmas day. I went and spent the evening with her, just the two of us. Others had been to visit with her during the day and the Bull and I came that evening with the kids, but after a little while, they left to go see his family and it was just Saint Aunt and I. We laughed and watched TV. I brushed her hair and massaged and exercised her legs and we chatted. Eventually we came around to the fact that the nurses always asked us if I was her daughter. My response was always, "She's my aunt, but she's like a mother to me." And the nurse would nod and smile, and the next day they would say, "Your mother is doing better," or "It's time for your mother to go to physical therapy." I looked at Saint Aunt and told her, "You know that's because you are my mother. It took me a long time to realize that, but you are." And she said, "You're my daughter." We held each other's hands and we cried a little, and we eventually dozed off watching TV.

For once, we had said all there was to say to each other.


オテモヤン said...
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Doulala said...

So beautiful. I am honored to read this. Thank you for sharing. Hugs!