Today was my aunt’s memorial. As regular readers will know, my method of trying to reconcile death is to write about people as if I could talk to them. My mom delivered the news. This was her much older sister who didn’t figure into her life that much as a young child but became a pillar by the time she was an adult. Bizarrely, it was through my aunt’s death that I found out my mother had been wildly excited about her trip to DisneyWorld (you will hear about it in due time, complete with photos 😉
That nugget of information was gleaned because my mom noted that my aunt didn’t express her emotions much in nice clear diction so that the rest of us could be sure what was going on. There is much to be celebrated about northern Europeans but emotional intelligence is not a strength. I realize it might harm art and literature but life would be so much easier if people would just talk – and hug 😉
My aunt did hug… but talk… not so much. Of course, it made her more mysterious. When someone dies, you have to reconcile your emotions and your memories of that person. Death sucks – but at least the pause can force us to think in a more metaphysical way than we might do on a regular day.
My aunt always seemed to be one of those people who wanted to fade into the background. I always wanted to see her bolder, more confident. But everyone has to follow her own path and we all have our own unique DNA.
North American culture celebrates loudmouths and show-offs. I sometimes fear we forget the valuable role that the quiet, unassuming nurturers play in the world. My aunt Shirley was the anti-Kardashian. She never sought the spotlight. She never appreciated how amazing she was.
But she taught me stuff that Kim and Kayne will likely never figure out…
She cared deeply about people and her house was open at almost any hour to anyone who needed a place to hang out – or a hug.
She didn’t judge and opened her arms and her heart to people who had made mistakes – or who were in a tight spot courtesy of other people’s decisions.
She was one of those sunny, happy people who never yelled or ruined your day.
She did it all in a really quiet way that snuck up on you and, sadly, left her underappreciated.
She was the first adult other than my parents that I really remember hanging out with (she babysat me as a small child). I can still remember every inch of her house. I spent hours playing with dolls or playing doctor in the various bedrooms. I grew up in a trailer park so I realize now it resonated with me so strongly – my aunt was the lady who tried to feed you constantly, made twelve different kinds of yummy treats for Christmas and lived in the same house her whole adult life. She was like a real life Hallmark film.
She – and that house – was a place of stability in my gypsy childhood. And her sole daughter was like the ultimate big sister. She was the coolest teenager I have ever known. She treated my sister and me like we were not just little kids – when we really were. She was one of my first great loves. My sister and I continued the tradition with her daughter, treating her a bit like a living doll 🙂
We all just live. Things happen. There are family events. Mostly we just sleepwalk through them. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more aware of the influences in my life and how people and events shape us.
Shirley definitely inspired me to spend more time in the kitchen. She taught me to be kind and forgiving and to care about others. She kept buying me cool Christmas presents even though the family had declared it not necessary (her husband owned a record shop so she shaped my musical taste). Her children inspired me. The people in your life matter. They help to shape and define you.
Actions speak louder than words. That’s how I know she loved me. And I loved her. You don’t need to say it out loud for it to be true…