This past week my elderly aunt died in a local nursing home, probably of Covid-19. As I am not able to mourn her in the traditional way by attending her funeral, hugging my cousins, etc., I hope you will bear with me as I do my mourning in this new medium, acknowledging a life so very well lived.
My aunt was an amazing woman, the family rock, the matriarch. But she carried this authority lightly. Her life was a Jane Austen sort of life: aside from a few small vacation trips, she basically stayed in her home and local community.
She kept an immaculate home. She sewed, she baked; she was the Martha Stewart of our family. Whenever we went over to her house for a visit, whether planned or spontaneous, she always offered us delicious homemade goodies. On a modest budget, with help from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, she served us meals involving the latest food trends. Her home had flowers cut from her garden, and my cousins wore the latest fashions she had skillfully sewn.
Although she didn’t drive, and her suburban area had spotty bus service, she managed to take in the Dayton flower show each year and attend the Minnesota Orchestra afternoon concerts. She remembered the birthdays of everyone in the family with a card sent through the mail. She hosted family get-togethers for holidays such as Easter where she made her famous cake in the shape of a lamb (also the centerpiece of many baptisms / confirmations). There were barbecues on the patio, and bridal or baby showers which were wonderful occasions filled with yummy pastries and the traditional dice game with lots of small gifts wrapped in colored tissue paper for the winners.
Neighbors were given gifts of food when they were ill. Members of her church received her prayers and casseroles. Her own mother was looked after carefully, especially after having had her legs amputated in later life. My aunt would clean grandma’s house, and that of a widowed aunt, each weekend.
At the nearby elementary school she worked as a teacher’s aide and later volunteered at an assisted living facility. Ironically, many of the people she helped take care of there were younger than she was.
When she turned 75, my cousins threw her a big party. It was to be a Roast and one of her sons acted as the MC. With mic in hand he walked around asking us all to share something funny about our aunt. He was met with silence. Nothing but silence. Our aunt was just too sweet, too kind, too gracious. She lived a life of harmony. There were no malapropisms, no forgotten recipe ingredients, no silly accidents with the laundry.
She maintained a quiet spirituality all of her life. She gave money and time to her church. She welcomed refugees there in recent years and embraced their contributions, sharing their recipes.
She had had personal struggles. There was a breast tumor which, luckily, turned out to be non-cancerous. Then her husband developed cancer and, after a long illness, passed away way too young. Not much later one of her daughters died suddenly, leaving young children. My aunt then helped to raise them for many years.
Through all this her faith in God remained, and we all marveled at how she stayed so emotionally strong, helping us with our own spiritual doubts. She, like her home, was our safe haven. She exemplified values that are timeless. She was decent, and caring, and compassionate. And we loved her.