Sunday, August 3, 2014

When I Grow Up


One evening after Dan died, I received a phone call from my dad's oldest sister.  My Aunt Doris is now 80 and has been widowed since she was 26. My Uncle Everett died of cancer and she was left to raise four children, ages seven and under on her own.

I've thought a lot about my Aunt since she called me that night offering words of advice and encouragement. Her biggest concern for me was that I not spend my life alone, as she knew firsthand how lonely it could be. My Aunt Doris never remarried. And she never drove. Imagine raising four children without having a vehicle to go buy groceries or go to appointments (how the heck would I make it to Timmy's for my double double). Not only that but she worked at a bank. Somehow she managed. I really can't begin to imagine how difficult that was for her.

When I was growing up, I never thought of my Aunt as a widow, I just thought of her as Aunt Doris. My uncle died before I was born so I never knew her as half of a loving couple. I've seen their wedding photo. How cute they were, and how young. They had no idea what life had in store for them.

I never took the time to stop and think about how hard it must have been for her or how lonely she must have been. I just assumed that she had decided she didn't want to remarry so never dated.   I never thought about how difficult a choice that would have been for her to make in the 60s, when expectations of what a woman should and shouldn't do when they were widowed were a lot more firmly entrenched than they are now. The attitudes I've run into (they need blogs all of their own let me tell you) are nothing compared to what she must have faced.

I certainly had no idea of the sadness she carried with her every single day. But you know what?  I've never seen my aunt without a smile on her face. Never. I have never heard her complain about her life and how unfair it was. She just got on with it and made the best of it. How brave she was (is). She raised four wonderful children. She has many beautiful grandchildren and great grandchildren. She is still active in her church and her community. She is the epitome of grace and dignity (something I would never be accused of, I swear far to much for that). She's had a good life. She is loved. But she's always been a bit sad, I know that now. That mischievous twinkle she has in her eye masks a hidden  tear. A tear that even 54 years later is always lurking under the surface. I understand. Completely.  When I saw her a few weeks ago, I hugged her a little tighter, and then made sure I hugged her again.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I think I've figured it out. I want to be just like my Aunt Doris when I grow up.

There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity. ~Washington Irving
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