Friday, March 13, 2015

Maudlin Mary

“You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it”

My aunt has that quote written on a post-it note on her desk. And man, I’m pretty sure it means she is a freaking badass. Because just the things I know of that she deals with would have toppled me many times over.

My relationship with my aunts as a child left me with a clear vision of what being an auntie means. It is this beautiful position of not having to be responsible for how children turn out but feeling like it is your honor to contribute to it. I had such a fantastic mom and a great big sister but my aunts just added such a spice to our lives. We lived very close to three of them (the CA aunts) and got into all sorts of awesome trouble with them all. My mom and her sisters viewed auntie-hood as being in this special realm of fun mixed with authority and understanding. My mom has five sisters so I had a lot of options for favorite auntie. And there were some really good ones. My aunt Val was the crazy one, my aunt Mary was the fun one (a little crazy too), the others had their moments too I suppose. But if I was being honest Hannelore was always my overall favorite. I loved spending time at her house. She was sort of hippy-dippy and I loved the crunchy people I met through her and the activities we did together.
She worked with adults with learning disabilities to transition them into independent living and she was the first person I ever knew who absolutely loved her job. Sadly, when I was too young to even mark the time in my internal calendar she was injured on the job. A back injury. Pain and uncertainty were the only constants since then and, to me, that seems way too hard to deal with.
But she did. She always appreciates life when it clearly looks like life is deliberately shitting on her. And I can’t respect her more for it. My immediate family of origin is sort of smart-asses and we show our love through acts of service and gifts most often. Hannelore’s love language is words of affirmation and she is the absolute best at keeping in touch with all of our far flung (and far out there) relatives. Before I met Michael she was one of the only people I knew who regularly said “I love you” out loud.

When her injury stopped her from working with adults with disabilities she rehabilitated for a while and then opened a daycare when I was about twelve. I worked for her during the summer. It is one of my fondest memories from those turbulent tweenage years. She made me feel so useful and we had such great times with the kids. She taught me to make a whole loaf of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slip them back into the bread bag. We took the kids on such wild adventures to the park and to pet stores. We watched Disney Sing-Along videos and now I can’t wait to follow the bouncing ball with my own son.

But her injury grew worse again and she had to close up shop. She stopped driving and other things in her life took a downward turn. But she never stopped seeing the beauty in life- at least not that I saw. I can’t imagine dealing with the darkness she saw, especially during that time. But she hung in there. She makes good, helpful friends and keeps them for a long time which I’m sure helps.

Nowadays she is physically pretty wrecked and is starting to be unable to leave the house without her big, unwieldy electric wheelchair which no one can transport in their cars. It makes me sad to see her world shrinking around her despite how much she has fought to stay in it and how beautiful she thinks it is. So I try to be good about calling and not letting myself feel guilty telling her about the great things in my life. I make sure to let her tell me she loves me and combat all of the personal discomfort I feel when I, very truthfully, tell her I love her too.

I’m actually not sure why I wrote this post or whether it has any conclusion or purpose to it. The great and awful thing about having children in your life is how much they mark time passing. Hannelore made Andrew a window hanger of prisms and I am pretty sure it is one of the best gifts ever. To him he’s amazed at the rainbows and absolutely delights at seeing and touching them. For me, it reminds me so much of her and of the two of us when I was younger. Of the 15 tiny dream catchers she made for my high school cheer squad in a week even when she didn’t have a lot of energy or money to do so. It reminds me of all of the things I could be openly delighted about with her. Reminds me of the feeling of having family who don’t necessarily live in your house but are a real part of your life.

One of the things she has mentioned, more and more lately, to me is how much she hopes our children remember her. I sure hope so too. I hope it will be because Andrew truly gets to know her. I hope he gets to hear she and my mom argue over the details of an old family story or laugh about who had the worst hair in photos.

But I brace myself and try to remember a favorite quote of mine from the legendary Billy Joel, “someday your child may cry and if you sing this lullaby, then in your heart there will always be a part of me.”

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Kathy said...

What a beautiful, loving tribute to your aunt! Too often we wait until someone is gone to write words like this. Since her love language is words, I'm sure she will treasure this. :)

Titanium Spork said...

This is so sweet and heartfelt. I hope you share it with her.