I had six aunts. I now have two. Last night I learned that the youngest — Dickie (Madylene) — has gone into hospice with a large mass in her lung. She doesn’t want to go through the misery of tests and so on, so she’s asked her kids to just let her go. I don’t know how that is for them, but she is a nurse, she is not in the least sentimental, and she is very, very practical. When I read my cousin’s message more-or-less conveying this, I heard in my mind Queen’s song from The Highlander, “Who Wants to Live Forever?” No one does. I don’t. I am sure my aunt doesn’t, either. The second-to-youngest of my aunts is at “the home” with pretty advanced dementia and doesn’t want to eat or drink. Both of these women are in their 90s.
I’m very sad. My relationship with some of my aunts has been important to me and, I hope, vice versa. I grew up around these women. My mom felt her family was important, she relied on their being there, so we spent time around them. This aunt — Dickie — has kids around my age, in fact, one of my cousins was born a month after I was. We grew up as friends.
One thing I learned from these women is that OTHER adults — not just parents — can be important in a kid’s life. I reached adulthood wanting to be that OTHER adult, not the parent.
A few years ago I decided I wanted my Aunt Dickie to know who I am. We’d been close, but had gotten estranged as a result of family stuff, and I didn’t like that. I have always liked her. I sent her a letter and a copy of Martin of Gfenn. She loved the book and wrote me a letter with two messages that meant the world to me. She was proud of me and she loved me.
I sent her Savior which she liked even more and then The Brothers Path. She really loved that book. Last winter her church book group read it as their winter book. She wrote me that and said, “I’m making them order it from Amazon so you’ll make a little money.”
Later I heard how the book group went. “Please keep writing the story of my mother’s family,” she said. “I’m very proud of you and she would be, too.”
This year I’ve ploughed through the sludge of disillusionment over writing, publishing, promoting, etc. Afew weeks ago, — after months and months — I looked again at what I’m calling “The Schneebelis Go to America,” and saw it’s a pretty good story. I wondered if I should keep going, or? My aunt’s words, “Keep writing the story of my mother’s family” echoed in my mind. “That’s a good reason to write,” I thought, “so my Aunt Dickie can read my book.”
My grandfather, my aunt’s father, in 1941, wrote a letter to his brother’s kids when their dad died. He wrote:
“I’m awfully sorry but it is a natural condition to make a change. It would be too bad for us to have to be bothered with this old body for ever. It seems sad but it might be if there was no death, that life would lose its meaning and love would perish from the earth and I would rather live where love rules and death is sure as to live forever in a land without love — but I am very sad.”
I can’t say it better.