I’m back, y’all.
Oh, so many things have happened since I last updated this blog. I have to be honest – because that’s just how this whole “putting your innermost thoughts online for strangers to read” thing works – while I’ve mentally composed a bunch of posts over the past year, I haven’t had the energy to actually write them down and post them. It’s not because I don’t love y’all; I just haven’t had my blogging mojo recharged in awhile.
But then, something terrible happened. Yes, friends, this blog post is going to be a little more serious than usual. Please bear with me as I get this off my heart, and I promise, I’ll get back to posting silly, sarcastic words soon (I’ve already got a lighthearted piece in the hopper). Yes, something terrible happened – my aunt died. My mom’s youngest sibling – and my godmother – is gone. And suddenly, I felt the urge to write – I needed to organize my thoughts and feelings, and to spew them all out onto the page. Since this is the only personal blog I’m maintaining (using that term very, very loosely) right now, this is where all the words are going.
So, my aunt died. She was sick, but the end still came quickly and it was still a shock, mostly because she’d fought for so long. Since there are three states between us – which equates a 12-hour drive – I hadn’t seen her since August 2014; she didn’t seem too bad then. Her health peaked and valleyed for months (years, really), then took a total nosedive last week. When I got the call from my mom, my heart literally stopped beating for a few seconds and my brain shut off. Have you ever had that happen? It’s the strangest feeling – like a sympathy yawn (when you see someone yawn and you start to yawn), only in this case, I think my body was literally experiencing a sympathy death. But my heart started beating again, and my brain kicked back into gear, and I immediately began remembering flashes of my time with my aunt over the years.
By the way, her name was Elizabeth. Like I said, she was my godmother, and when I was a kid, I idolized her. She wasn’t actually that much older than me – since she was the youngest of nine and my mom is the middle of the birth order, she was about 17 when I was born. I remember being young and visiting my parents’ families in Iowa every summer; Elizabeth always made sure we had a little time, just the two of us, to do something fun. I have vivid memories of being around five or so, sitting on the seat of her old pickup while she drove us to the convenience store and bought us slushes, and thinking she was just so cool. The summer after first grade, she spent an entire afternoon with me, working on bolstering my math skills, which had suffered after a school year with a math teacher who largely ignored me. I remember going through flash cards and workbooks, Elizabeth explaining concepts to me and rewarding my correct answers with chocolate chips.
As I got older, she would send me brand-name clothes for the new school year – anyone remember Z Cavariccis? – wanting to make sure I felt like one of the cool kids. She sent me a down comforter when I had surgery as a teen, telling me that she’d used one after her hip replacement because it helped keep her warm without adding weight to her already-painful hip. She surprised me with a visit to Colorado, right after my first baby was born. She was so excited to meet him. She brought him gifts, including a couple of soft blankets that we used throughout the toddler stage, then put in the car to be used for emergencies (or last-minute picnics). She took me shopping for new clothes, because I was in that weird stage where none of my maternity clothes or pre-pregnancy clothes fit. It was never about the gifts themselves; it really was about the thought behind them – she always had a reason for giving whatever she gave.
I always felt a little cheated, because my cousins were so much closer to her, both in proximity and relationally. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to really get to know her; unfortunately, I think that’s just how things are when you’re separated by 800+ miles. I am grateful to have been able to make the trip back for her funeral. It was sad, and difficult, to see her body – she looked nothing like herself, which made it hard to believe she was really gone. One of my cousins said, “It doesn’t look like her. It’s distracting.” She was right; it was distracting. I honestly kept waiting for Elizabeth to show up, camera in hand, snapping pictures of the kids running around, the flowers, the family. In thinking about it, it occurred to me that the reason her body didn’t look like the Elizabeth I remember is because I didn’t realize how much someone’s personality affects how that person looks – her personality radiated through her face, and when that was gone, she looked a stranger.
On our way home from the funeral, while driving in the middle of the night, my sister and I were not in agreement as to the temperature in the car. She was hot and I was cold; since she was driving, cool air it was. We stopped for gas, and I remembered that we had some blankets stashed in the back for emergencies. As I tucked them around me, and began thawing out, it hit me – these were the blankets Elizabeth had given us. I’m telling you – every gift had a purpose.
The hole she leaves in the family is a big one. Our visits will be tinged with that loss, probably forever – I’ll always be waiting for her to show up to the family gathering, ready to tell me about the animals that visited her place, and to show me pictures of an interesting bird she saw in one of her many feeders. One of the saddest realizations that comes with losing someone is that you can’t do anything about it. Life is about change, and loss is part of that change. The comfort for our family is that someone who never complained about what she suffered is now free from that pain and suffering. She lived well, loved many, and was very much loved in return.