My throat burns — my eyes water with unshed tears. I’d feel better if I let myself indulge in a good cry. Or maybe an old-fashioned temper tantrum that would give any toddler a run for their money.
It began with Sunday afternoon’s phone call. As usual, my husband answered, and yelled up the stairs: “Christi’s on the phone.” As I walked to the nightstand that holds the phone, I knew — in a way I couldn’t really know — that this would be no ordinary call — no ordinary how-are-you, let’s-catch-up chat. I sensed the load of my sister’s bad news and with each step bringing me closer to true knowledge, I wondered: Uncle Bob? Or Aunt Jo? Uncle Bob? Or Aunt Jo? As my hand touched the receiver, the answer came: It was Aunt Jo. Taking a deep breath, I cautiously answered my sister’s call, to hear Christi’s barely exhaled words. In a voice scratchy with emotions spent and unspent, I heard, “It’s Aunt Jo.” All I could summon up was one word: “Damn.”
Sometimes I get angry with God about our apparent need to suffer and watch helplessly as loved ones slip through our fingers. On Sunday evening, in spite of her brain bleed, Aunt Jo was mostly coherent and ever gracious. She inquired about something she and I had talked about last Tuesday and in spite of a scary day spent in two ER’s, she talked about others who had made life meaningful: Her Aunt Loudell, for one, who had taught her how to make cream pie filling — her worry about not being able to find that baby gifts she had put back for my daughter Kara — and her love of her daughter-in-law Judy, who meant more than words could express.
It was this latter point about Judy where she paused to ask for help. In all of our long life shared together, I can’t recall my dear aunt ever asking me for help. But ask she did, by wondering if I would bring my son Kyle to visit her this week, because she really needed help gathering her thoughts to give Judy a written tribute. “She means so much to me and our family,” she said. “And I need help putting it all down in words.”
Assuring her that Kyle and I would come whenever she was ready to write, I left the hospital in peace. I dropped my family a quick note expressing my relief that no surgery had been needed and that bleeding had apparently stopped. But five hours later, peace shattered into pieces, as I rushed into the night to offer love and support where I could — to discover Aunt Jo now laboring toward death. Thirteen hours later, it was over — as quick as it had begun — in the blink and fluttering of eyes.
Exhausted as I was, I was too agitated to sleep. My mind bounced around, as I tried to focus on a television show, when the phone preempted everyday life again. It was my sister, calling on behalf of Judy and the rest of Aunt’ Jo’s family — they wondered if I would help by writing Aunt Jo’s obituary?
Do I have to confess that I wanted to say no? That I didn’t want this task, that I didn’t feel like I could. But I agreed to give it my best. And before going to bed, I expressed everything out and left it to simmer in the computer over night. And this morning, after making a few edits — then a few more with the help of Jane, my sole maternal aunt — I released it to Judy.
Life holds many lessons. Even in horrible situations, good shines through. Maybe it would be more accurate to say God shines through, and that love saturates our actions to carry the day. I now understand so much more how Aunt Jo felt Sunday night when she asked for Kyle’s help, because the magnitude of love cannot be spelled on paper. It’s too much. I’m reduced with a wish to write gibberish: No more Aunt Jo. No more Porcupine Balls. Or Snowballs. Or perfect Pecan Pie. No more of this staple in my life being on the other end of the phone to answer my latest call for help.
This writing down of tributes is work better left to poets and saints. It is above and beyond me. My spirit is sore — my words weighted with sadness, with no hope to soar. But this morning I let them go anyway. May God bless my widow’s mite of words.