On Saturday, May 29, 2010 my aunt Eleanor, otherwise known to us as “Babe”, passed away. As you all know from reading the blog and all the issues we faced while in California this is not a big surprise, and at the advanced age of about 100, she was probably ready to go “home”. As a staunch, and I mean staunch, Christian, there was no sadness for her to pass. And the fact her beloved son Buddy had gone on a few years ago, she was probably eager to join him.
Our feelings were a bit more complicated. As I stated my aunt was a very staunchly religious person and this caused some issues off and on with all of us at one point. In fact I grew up believing that she was a hard nosed disciplinarian who believed things were either black or white. There was no room for any gray in her world. It was either really right or really wrong, and that all centered around God.
At least… part of it.
I remember back in 1983 when she came to visit us that my mother was in such a state that everything that would annoy Eleanor was put away. She told me that we had to put up anything red because my aunt hated red.
I was like… it’s our house. She can get over it.
Needless to say, I didn’t quite know what to expect when she came to visit but I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like it.
She ended up surprising me big time and we got along great, especially when my mom and my uncle went to Oklahoma to see family. My aunt actually was very funny and all the things I thought she’d criticize (including my rock music), weren’t even an issue.
We had some really deep discussions. I told her I was considering a career in law and I remember her asking me what I thought about the death penalty. Even then I had to steel my spine to say what I assumed would be a contrary opinion. When I told her I didn’t believe in it (I’m a bleedin’ heart liberal from way back), she said that was good. That only God should be the one to take a life.
It surprised me and taught me a little something about judging someone before you know them.
Now this isn’t to say she didn’t have certain things to say about some of the things I did she didn’t agree with. I heard about the rock music, naturally, but she also really worried about my weight. Gluttony n’ all that.
So I never really ran over myself trying to please her like my mom felt she had to do. But then again, my mother met my aunt when she was only 13 years old. Auntie Babe was like a second mother to her in a lot of ways, especially since she was so much older than my uncle. When they married she was 39 and he was 17.
It caused quite the stir in my family. Especially when it was discovered she would have no children with my uncle, and that her son from another marriage would be her only child. To make matters more strained, he was an adult by the time my uncle and aunt got married.
And my family being what they were, bottled up a lot of resentment – especially about the way that my aunt and uncle managed their marriage. They slept in separate rooms and my aunt was the dominate driving force of the union… which caused quite a bit of hurt feelings on the parts of many.
But when my son Brandon passed away in 1995 she was the biggest rock of comfort for me. I had just moved back out to California and we had no money, no friends, no resources… and Dan was still in Texas and unable to get out until right before the funeral. My sister and I weren’t on speaking terms and of course my mother was dealing with the loss of a newborn grandson, so Auntie Babe carried the burden. I don’t remember much about the graveside service but I do remember her standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders the entire duration. When we were looking through some of her photos back in March I actually ran across a photo she took of the casket there at the graveside – something I never even knew she did – and was jarred a little bit by the memory.
It wasn’t just something she did for me. There was something about the whole thing that had touched her as well.
I fell out of my Auntie Babe’s favor when I separated from my first husband, Dan, in 1999. Per her religion it was adultery to be with my second husband, and it didn’t help my case at all that she adored Dan. So I hadn’t talked to her in more than ten years when she was hospitalized earlier this year.
When I walked into the room, I had no idea what to expect or if I’d even be welcome. Due to her advanced illness she didn’t remember her grudge or my previous litany of sins that made me persona non grada for near a decade. Instead she was loving and accepting – and everything I remembered from the first time I got to spend time with her twenty plus years ago.
In a big way, it was healing.
She didn’t try to dominate my uncle, she was loving and even more affectionate to him within the seven weeks we were there than she had been probably in the decades that came beforehand. When she had that scare where her heart stopped and they had to take her to the hospital, it just filled my heart with such joy to see how happy they were to see each other again when she came back. She showered him with kisses and when she told a nurse so matter of factly “He’s my everything”, it reduced me to tears.
It made me realize that my uncle didn’t stay with her because he had to, because his religion dictated that he couldn’t leave her. He stayed because he loved her. He needed her… and she needed him. We didn’t have to understand why, that’s something that was (rightly) between them.
Needless to say, the lessons keep coming.
I had planned to go to California this coming weekend and even though I was told she wasn’t doing well I had hoped to see her before she passed away. I wanted to tell her I loved her one more time and kiss and hug her, just like we did mere weeks ago.
But she was ready to go home. And now I must go to say goodbye… which is especially poignant because I felt like I had only just said hello.
It makes me glad to have the experiences that I did, to get to know her, get to understand her relationship with my uncle, and see the beauty in something I had long colored black and white.
All along… it was just another shade of gray.
So thank you, Auntie Babe, and all the lessons you taught me. Rest in peace… and say hello to Dan and Brandon for me.