The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye
The story of love is hello and goodbye
Until we meet again.
My aunt died last night. We weren’t there with her to hold her hand, to tell her she’s not alone, that she’s loved and will be remembered. Someone was there. Someone really important. Probably the most important of her life. But it’s still not us. We wanted to be there. Especially before, when everything was colored all hopeful, when there was a game plan and a calendar full of appointments and a to do list of tasks waiting to be ticked off one by one.
The game plan, the to do list, the calendar have changed into preparations for the after party. Which all has to be handled as life doesn’t wait, not for anyone, not for a minute. But it all seems hollow and inconsequential and drained of color. Memorializing a life after it’s done is useless, just a big, empty room for everyone to put their tears in. Life should be memorialized every day. We should be together as much as we can, laugh, love, fight, hug, talk as much as we can. Because it all runs out in the time it takes to pull up a zipper.
My aunt was color incarnate. I remember the bright yellow vinyl couch in her apartment circa 1970′s. I remember her loud, large jewelry that exploded with color and drew the eye like a deer to headlights. I remember the jazzy hats that disguised her diagnosis. Her mother before her was a butterfly, chunky, brilliant bits of enamel perched jauntily about her person. Smearing laughter and happiness over everyone in her path, like Nutella on toast. My butterfly tattoos remember my grandma, as do we all every time we see one flittering across the sun speckled sky. What will conjure memories of my KK?
She was a complicated woman. One who wanted to appear carefree, fun-loving, the life of the party. Truth is, she was all those things. But there was so much more, so many more layers and so much more depth that none of us will ever get to know. Mental illness was the focus of her life, she spent her working hours shining lights in the dark and deeps of other people and helping them clear a path through their wreckage. She did this for others, but couldn’t for herself. She did eventually get medication for her anxiety, which is a great place to start. But, as most therapists believe(including myself and my aunt), you need to fill up your toolbox with tools you can use to deal on the daily.
She smoked. She was elusive. She never returned phone calls and rarely returned texts. She twisted the truth to keep us in the shallow end of the pool. I’m so mad at her for cutting us out, for never sharing her realness, for letting two years go by without talking or dealing with the way that our last visit ended. She found a family of her own. I’m glad she did. I did too. But my OG family, the one with all the biology, is even more important because of that. I can understand that she made her own choices that had nothing personally to do with any of us, I can let it go because it can only occupy your brain as long as you allow it. But I can’t forgive it. I can’t forgive turning down love for no good reason at all. And I’m okay with that. It’s a place I’ve come to over years and years, unrelated to her physical death.
I loved her. She was amazing. She was gentle and funny and supportive and ferociously protective. She sacrificed a lot of her youth taking care of my grandma. She was always taking care of people in the way she felt best, even when they didn’t want her to, even when it wasn’t the way they wanted to be cared for. For her clients, she got real. She stepped up to the plate and handled the roughest of stuff, she did what others couldn’t or wouldn’t. She led a group for male sexual abusers. She believed in their ability to change, in their worth as people apart from the heinous things they did. She believed in being given the opportunity to change.
When my sister and I were small, my aunt told us mouse stories. They usually revolved around two sister mice, suspiciously similar to us in name and identifying features, having marvelous adventures. She played with my sister’s and my kids tirelessly, always committing fully to the game or the role she was playing. She was most natural, most at home and real with the young ones. She was never patronizing or dismissive. And she was loved by them.
She loved to laugh. She had a great sense of humor and never withheld a giggle or a chuckle or a guffaw. It’s the most vivid memory I have of her, head thrown back, laughter swirling and swelling up through those rattly smoker’s lungs.
One of Phil’s Osophies from last night’s Modern Family was, “If you love something, set it free. Unless it’s a tiger.”
Be free, my favorite aunt. I’m laughing right along with you.