Posts Tagged ‘Relatives’

I walked into the room slowly, solemnly. I knew what I was going to see in the room and in a way I was prepared for it. But truthfully, one is never fully prepared for death.

There were others already in the room as my family filed in: my first cousins once-removed and my aunt, and they all stood to exchange hugs and whispered updates. I looked at my great aunt lying there on the hospital bed. Her slow breathing, her wrinkled hands moving up and down on the flat chest. Her hair, still fairly strawberry-blonde, was only about 6 inches long. She heard new voices in the room and briefly opened her eyes to look around the room before shutting them again, already exhausted from the small effort.

Great Aunt Carole was my father’s aunt, his mother’s older sister. She outlived her husband, three younger siblings, and even her nephew, my father. A survivor of breast cancer, she lived to be 79 before the cancer returned and her heart finally gave out. Life has a way of taking some people prematurely, and leaving others to linger. Aunt Carole used to tell me, “I’m ready to go – I’m just waiting on God now.”

“It looks like your day is just about here, Aunt Carole.” It was somehow therapeutic to carry on a conversation with her in my head, as if we were both back in her living room enjoying a cup of coffee and the Funnies. After my grandma died, Aunt Carole became more of a grandmother to us than an aunt, and we visited her frequently. Then in the spring of 2011, my older sister Grace and I took turns staying with her for about 6 weeks after she had a pacemaker installed. She could get around the house by herself just fine, but she felt more secure knowing there was someone else around to help her out.

Over that small amount of time, I really got to know Aunt Carole. She spent many hours lying on the couch in the living room and she’d say, “Now your grandmother, she always liked to be doing something. Sewing, or painting, or basket weaving. I didn’t even like to cook! All I wanted to do was sit and read a book.” So I’d sit with her and we’d drink coffee while she told old family stories. Sometimes she’d read the paper and I’d play records on her turn table. Louis Armstrong albums were our favorite. Occasionally her pastor or friends would come to visit, but most days it was just the two of us in that little old house, the one she’d lived in for almost 50 years.

I paused my reflections to tune back into the conversation going on around me in the hospital room. Everyone was laughing about cousin Maury’s recent advertisement on the radio. “I’m a plumber, not a radio guy” was the favorite line and someone would repeat it every few minutes, inevitably starting another round of quite snickers.

Cousin Micheal walked into the room, back from taking his mom’s car to the shop. “She really liked you and Grace staying with her, Kathryn. She thought of y’all as granddaughters you know. Thanks for everything you did for my mom.” I thought about this for a second. Sure, I cooked and cleaned for her, took her to doctor’s appointments, the bank, the store. Yes, I did a lot. But she did something more. She gave to me some of her knowledge and wisdom. She told me parts of our family history I hadn’t known before. She taught me the importance of loving your family unconditionally and that you should always make time for others because you never know who you could be blessing at any given point. No, I decided, she did more for me than I did for her.

“Remember that record you love that I played for you the other day?” I asked her, continuing the conversation in my head. “It was, “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” with Louis Armstrong. You were lying on the couch, and I sat there watching you as your eyes closed and you leaned your head back. I could tell you were in a far off place, recalling happy memories of a time long gone and people from years past. There were tears in your eyes then, Aunt Carole, but soon you will be at peace, and you will only have happy memories from here on out. I will miss you, but I’m so thankful for the time we had together.”

As I took her hand and leaned in to kiss her goodbye I whispered, “I love you, Aunt Carole.” With eyes still closed as if she were in a peaceful sleep, she smiled and squeezed my hand in return.

“Yes,” I thought. “I will miss you very much.”

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