My Aunt Sara, who has been in hospice recently after a long battle with cancer, passed away this week and I’m leaving for Nashville today for her services. It’s not my place to broadcast her life or her journey publicly on the interwebs, but know she was absolutely magical and if we’re ever visiting together in person, I’d love to tell you all about her.
What I will share is a specific story that is mostly mine. My aunt Sara and my aunt Patty (my Godmother) lived together since shortly after my Grandmother died in the early 90s. When I got pregnant with Eliah in 1994, they invited me to come visit. At the time, I was living in a kinda crazy situation with a house full of people I didn’t know all that well, one of whom I was about to marry. It was a difficult and surreal time for me as I suddenly faced an adulthood I knew I wasn’t prepared for surrounded by people who were not on any path to adulthood yet themselves. It was difficult in a way I didn’t talk about to anyone, not even my Dad to whom I was the closest. Simply put: I was 18 and pregnant and terrified of what was to come.
So this visit with my Aunts took me out of all of that chaos and gave me a short chunk of time to see what a normal adult life could look like when I was in the mindset to be considering my own sudden life as an adult. See, as wonderful as my Dad was as a Father, he did not create any sort of “normal” household life for us growing up. We didn’t share meals around tables or decorate or cook. Our house was nothing more than a shelter to protect us, there was no pride or comfort in it. We didn’t even have a couch! There was no central heat or air so everything was always covered in dust and mold. It was too cold there in the winters and too hot in the summers. It was kinda understood that we all tried to spend as little time there as possible. Our house was not really a “home” in the way most families try to establish. And here I was about to bring a child into a house with 4 other 18-year old’s, none of whom had any more of a clue how to be an adult as I did and my childhood “home” was my only reference to how all of that was supposed to look for a family.
I also had no concept of what it looked like to have TWO adults in a house. My Dad raised me alone and did all of the adult stuff himeself. Don’t get me wrong, it was great in a very unique way, but far from “normal” as one would typically imagine. And I was in a mindset trying to figure out what all of that was supposed to look like as I was about to marry E’s Dad. I tried a lot in those days to reflect on the house’s my friends grew up in, but when you’re a kid visiting your friend’s you’re not trying to analyze their house or their family as a guide for when you’re an adult. Which is what I needed.
My Aunts and their home was exactly what I realized I wanted for my own life and family. As sisters they had this comfort in each other that choreographed almost a dance around the house where they did different tasks for the home and the family unit as they got ready in the morning or made meals or did chores. The kind of dance Donnie and I do now as couple of almost 20 years. Their home was filled with things that made it beautiful and comfortable and so very welcoming. It was soft, which was something I found so inviting and exactly the embrace I needed in a tumultuous time. I remember so much of the little things during those trips (I think I visited them twice) that stayed with me forever. They had flavored creamer for their coffee and they knew how each of them liked their coffee made. They cooked dinner and we sat at a table to eat and they had potpourri sachets and we went to the mall and they bought me nightgowns and it was just all very magical in exactly they way I need to start to try to embrace a sudden thrust into adulthood.
They showed me how warm and comforting a house could be if you filled it with love and took time to care for it.
SIDENOTE: I was with them at Cracker Barrel the one and only time I “passed out” in my life. I was starving as we were waiting for our seats and was feeling lightheaded and not quite realizing how fast being hungry can go south when you’re pregnant. Then, BAM! it was like the world was closing in around me as I “fell” to the ground and all I could think about was trying not to tear down any of the closely packed displays in the store.
The employees brought me biscuits once I explained why I had passed out. I can’t eat Cracker Barrel biscuits without thinking of that day.
Visiting my aunts that summer I really started imagining what a future could look like as an adult in a home filled with family and love, if you took pride in your surroundings. I keep that feeling of their home, the comfort and the love and the ritual of partnered living in my heart always as those few days staying with them did more to shape my views of what adulthood with a family would look like more than they probably ever realized.
I know a lot of grown-ups don’t continue to visit with aunts and uncles after they’ve left their parent’s homes. But because most of my Mom’s family was in Nashville and Chattanooga which is close to Huntsville, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot more time with that part of my family than most adults spend with their Aunts and Uncles over the years. I’m lucky to have been able to attend weddings and reunions and random spontaneous gatherings in the 25+ years since I left home. I was even able to take E to one of the reunions on the river that were common in my childhood. The way in particular that this current Nashville unit of Aunts and Uncles have always loved and supported each other through medical crisis, personal crisis, and change has always been something to be inspired by and I’ve always felt lucky to be situated geographically in a way that allows me to feel close to them and to witness that demonstration of love.
Now that I reflect on it, I could write a book just about the dozens of ways all of my Mom’s siblings…my Aunts and Uncles have taught me about love and support and forgiveness and faith and family over the years. There was the Aunt and Uncle that gave me almost an entire childhood’s worth of hand-me-downs from their boys when E was born so I had things I could have never bought on my own…things like play pens and swings and cute betting. There’s the Aunt who let me stay with her when my Mom was comatose after her aneurysm at Vanderbilt. My Aunt Sara took E to school with her during the time my Mom was hospitalized and bought him art supplies all giving me the peace of mind to deal with my Mom in the hospital knowing E was in good hands. My other Aunt and Uncle have opened their home to me on several occasions, once just 2 years ago when they let their grandson have a sleepover with Wes in their bonus room which Wes STILL talks about because it was so awesome.
And oh my GOD they are all so funny. 2 years ago we had a small impromptu gathering when Wes and Nyoka and I were in Nashville and it was a night filled with laughter and story-telling and I called Donnie on my way out of town for that trip and just raved about how much it filled my cup. It was exactly what I needed at that time having just lost my job and found myself drifting and off course.
They have all shown me so much about how we are all imperfect, but family can still come together in love and support in spite of those imperfections…sometimes BECAUSE of them…and I’m often reflecting on their unconditional love for each other when I’m trying to built supportive units of love in my own family.
My aunt Sara was an integral piece of all of that and she will be missed.
Please keep my Mom and all of her siblings in your heart today. Especially my Aunt Patty who has taught me so much about how to care for a loved one in their final days, lessons I don’t want to need but I’m glad I got to witness even if just for just a few moments. I am blessed to be a part of that family and I’m honored to hold the love they have for each other in my heart as a model in my own life.