There are several things that make me sad this week, including the devastation in Brookport, but my heart is heaviest over the loss of my Aunt Betty. While I had hoped last week she could fight hard enough to turn the tide, it became obvious in the past couple of days that infection was going to win, and that, my friends, was difficult to accept. My heart breaks today for my family’s loss and more importantly, for my cousins as they grieve the loss of a second parent in such a short amount of time.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that’s true. If you’re lucky, you get a big wonderful noisy village like me. All my life, I have been surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who have filled my life with joy, guidance and love. As an older, less naïve adult, I am now fully aware of how rare that can be, and I cling to that tighter as the years go by and that village gets smaller with the loss of my father’s brothers and sisters. I can only imagine how hard it is for him and my mother to see death regularly take away their closest loved ones. Their circle grows smaller and smaller every year.
In the middle of my village was my Aunt Betty. She’s a player in some of my earliest memories. When I was very young we lived “up north” as we say in these parts. Daddy worked at the Joliet Arsenal, and we lived in an apartment in Manteno, just blocks away from Aunt Betty and Uncle Paul (dad's brother). I was four years old, and all but one of their six children was older than me. I was always fascinated by the comings and goings of all those teenagers. Their bustling noisy house was exciting to a preschooler who constantly wanted to tag along. There were squeals and motorcycles and even an exploding crockpot. I created my own excitement the day I choked on a piece of peppermint candy, and Aunt Betty scooped me up and pounded that peppermint out of my mouth and across the room. I can credit her with saving my life at the tender age of four.
Even though we moved back to Metropolis when I was five, we still saw them in the summer and stayed especially close after she and Uncle Paul moved here after retirement. She was always good for a laugh, and I love to laugh. We shared many a smile, and she made me smile many times.
Last January, she came on the family cruise we took to Mexico. It delighted me to no end that she needed a passport at the age of 79. And while we initially thought we would have to watch over her, it was obvious on the first night that she and her sister were going to have a large time and had no use for “supervision”. Companionship yes, supervision no. It was so much fun watching them have a good time that week. In fact, I can credit their great toilet seat incident with making me laugh so hard that my bladder betrayed me right there in the middle of the Carnival Paradise. It was a betrayal of Benedict Arnold proportions.
Aunt Betty (right)
I laughed about that this morning shortly after I found out Aunt Betty had earned her ultimate healing. Laughed and cried. As Truvy says in Steel Magnolias, “laughter through tears is one of my favorite emotions”. I was a bit of a mess by the time I arrived at my first appointment this morning. I will hold that memory and others dear to my heart, but more than anything I will remember her for her love. She was much loved, and she loved well. She opened her door to many children over the years. As a kid, every time I asked to go somewhere with her, she said yes. She was the first person to welcome my husband into the family with a big hug, and she always made him feel like blood family. She had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are mourning her loss today. And her wit will be missed by all. She’s probably already pulled a good one on St. Peter. And I’m sure she’s rejoicing at her reunion with Uncle Paul and her son, Jay. Look out Heaven, you have no idea what just hit you. And it’s coming at you with a big hug.