This is a personal post so you can stop reading if you don't care to read ramblings on dealing with death. I had an aunt who called me monthly. I had an aunt who sent me care packages in college loaded with candy that made my rich friends envious. I had an aunt who would talk to me about anything. I had an aunt who made it a point to spend time with, welcome in and get to know my wife. I had an aunt who commented on every damn Facebook picture or video upload of my kids. I was lucky enough that I had all of that in one woman. I am from a big family full of aunts, some great and some meh, but I lost my favorite. She died in July. I was thinking of her this week when the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" was on the radio in my car, and I heard my son singing back up with a little "woo woo" in time. I instinctively thought how she'd laugh at that. Everyone grieves differently and at different paces. This is part of it for me.
My aunt had no kids but poured her heart into her nieces and nephews. My sister and I were incredibly close to her because we were the oldest grandkids, and knew her when she could walk. We both spoke at her funeral. To show how perverse people are politically now, my aunt in charge of organizing speakers told my uncle, and thru my sister me, to lay off the religious stuff because my dead aunt wasn't into organized religion. It's a funeral. If someone speaks, be thankful they shared you idiots. That side is way too left, but "just win" left unlike my aunt who was so far left that her leftness and my rightness met at the "burn the system down to start anew" point. My sister took the comedy angle, while I played the sentimental. I wasn't going to lie, and neither did my sister. I loved my aunt dearly but she frustrated me so much. She had major flaws and made some bad decisions, and she would point them out for those of us younger than her to not do. She was in a biker gang out west, had done God knows what horrible things, and yet, always found a moment to send me a letter, a post card or a box with Fool's Gold in it, and always signed "Love you". When she finally kicked her drug habit and moved home, my sister and I were so happy. I told stories to explain to our family just how much she and I shared, but I wasn't going to pretend my Harley riding, jailbird, night owl aunt did not exist 25 years earlier. I filled the eulogy with special stories. One was training my kid to say goodnight and her nickname in time for her birthday, which with his speech delay and my secrecy was a pleasant shock for her that brought her tears of joy. There were two stories I couldn't share; I'll put them here as this blog is really for my mental release.
I couldn't share with my family the fun of being in a big family is that when a crisis hits, you see the informal networks. My sister's wedding reception table seating was like a Twitter network diagram because of who likes who and who hates who at that moment. In a big family, you can tell relatives to flip off because there are 5-10 other siblings to go buddy up with after that. My dad grew up dirt poor, and just about every dysfunction (substance abuse) or positive stereotype (hard working strivers) you associate with a poor upbringing is found in one or the other relative. My aunt and I, despite being a generation apart, were a major conduit of information. It was a back channel for approaching problems. About 8 years ago, she caught on that a younger cousin of mine, who was 13, might be gay. I had that suspicion, too. One dinner she talked to me and my wife about it, and voiced a specific concern, "with how much her mother made gay jokes, I don't see her accepting X. You're both young, you know gays. How'd your friends' parents handle it". I gave her the "things are different now" speech, and mentioned that the final confirmation of it hits anyone hard. I also said that if it happens, we still let X know that we love her, and she is still family. My aunt made a crack about her own problems in the past and people accepting her back. Years later, my cousin came out, and thanks to a decade extra of Hollywood brainwashing, it's all "super-awesome" and my cousin's parents' attitude about gays in the '80s and '90s is down the memory hole.
The other story, I had actually written into the eulogy. When I came to that part, I told them I couldn't read it because it came true and had hit me too hard. On the night I picked up my wife's engagement ring, I had a business dinner, so I had to get the ring right after work then go to the meal. As dessert came, I got a call. It was my aunt. She was in tears. I told her where I was and asked for 5 minutes. I hung up, said my good-byes to my business guests, and then spent an hour in the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory in Burlington, Massachusetts. It wasn't a call aunts and nephews should have, but she and her husband were going through hard times (lost job, money, health, etc.). My aunt had poor health due to very poor lifestyle decisions she made and her smoking habit. I hit her with it. I told her how I was proposing, hoping to elope and that I worried she "would not live to see my children". She was in her late 40s when I said that to her. Now my aunt ended up dying a week before I brought my baby girl home to meet the big family for the first time. From the moment I heard the news of her death to when my wife arrived with the kids in Maine, I thought of how that worry came true.
When my relatives tried to prog the funeral, I thought, " Who did she call in her dark times? Not your spirit warrior prog self. Me. One of the few Christians". It's my relationship with her to share with them at that moment. They were fortunate to hear it. I am thankful for the time I spent with her. I am still angry that she missed out on my kids. I'm angry that I saw it coming and she knew that I saw this coming, but she could not kick her final habit. I will eventually let that go. Willpower was not her strength. It will sting for the near future as my kids do little things like drum solos to Pink Floyd songs or just being a 6 month old night owl that make me think of her. That pain will go away. She'll become a wild character for my kids to learn about, and for them to know that she loved them even if for a short while.
She loved Halloween, so I'm thinking of her because she loved the family costumes we have come up with (this year, it's all four of us). My aunt went out west for several years, raising hell yet always finding time to send my sister and I something. After she lost a leg, she sent a postcard that had a picture of a tombstone that said, "Here Lies the 1 Legged Bandit". She wrote on the back "Bastards have a spot picked out for me!". Always signing that she loved us. When she came back, we wondered how she'd be with us and were very happy to know the letters were real, the feelings were true, and it was what helped bring her back. She is part of why I believe in redemption, and giving people a second chance. Despite not believing in organized religion, she had seen enough to believe in the soul and that there was something out there tying us together. I know not everyone has kids. Some can be self centered, and some can make an effort to connect. After calming down and cleaning up, my aunt made a great effort to connect and love. I hope that at some point in all of your lives that someone unexpected can love you in an unexpected way.