I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block, but I am not ready to write about what’s most on my mind. So with that in mind, I’m recycling some old posts from the past. With Mother’s Day being yesterday, this seemed appropriate, as my aunt was on my mind. I miss her and I always will.
When I saw it sitting on the shelf, my hand reached out for it automatically, almost as if that appendage had a mind of its own.
It reminded me of her, that bar of Ivory soap. The scent that would linger on pillows and bedsheets and my shoulder after a hug. The scent that enveloped her skin, bare, as she leaned over a basin while I rinsed her hair, her gnarled hands reaching up every so often to check my progress. “Nope, I still feel some, right here”.
She lived with us, practically, for so much of my childhood. I remember at first, it was only visits, back when she could still drive a car on her own. I remember her big blue suitcase, and matching overnight case, full of curlers and make up and lotions. Then as her disease took so much of her independence, the stays were more frequent. They lasted longer and there were fewer days in between.
There were the surgeries. Hands. Wrists. Knees. Feet. Each one performed in expectation of some kind of miracle, but in reality left her twisted and more broken than before. She lived on her own longer than many people in her condition would have, or even should have. She took Darvocet daily, those oblong orange pills…I can still see them. I handed her so many of them, shaking them out of that brown pharmacy bottle. A few hours relief from the pain, if she was lucky, on a good day.
I would watch her cry into her pillow when she thought no one was looking. She never let anyone see how much pain she was in, really. She was not a complainer. She never railed at the doctors who accelerated her decline into complete disability. She never once whined about how her children visited rarely, and pretty much seemed to consider her a burden.
I remember reaching out to her for comfort in the middle of the night when my dad was in surgery and mother was by his side.
Late nights, silly stories, funny faces and even goofier voices. She had them all. She had the patience my mother lacked. I remember my mother refusing to let me help wash dishes because I didn’t do them “correctly”. I went to my aunt in tears, and as usual she comforted me and distracted me with something. I over heard her later talking to my mother, explaining to her how much it meant for me to be a part of something, and if I wasn’t rinsing the dishes to her satisfaction, perhaps she could sneak back in later when I wasn’t looking and rinse them again. It didn’t work, but I loved her for sticking up for me.
She loved pineapple ice cream and soap operas. She alone is responsible for me knowing who Roman, Marlena, and Stefano are. So many summer afternoons, spent eating lunch by her bed as we watched the latest installment. Was Stefano really dead this time?
She loved ceramics. I have a tiny little ceramic slice of cheese. It has a little mouse face peeking out the front of it, and a tiny little mouse bottom, complete with tail, poking out of the back. It has my initials on it, and the date. 1987. If there were a fire? Other than my daughter, it is one of two things I would make sure got out.
Like my father, who was her brother, she had a love of cooking and recipes and cookbooks. She contributed many recipes to the cookbook that her church put out every year. I am fortunate enough to have inherited one of those books. It is dog eared and I get a combination of teary eyed and warm hearted every time I open it up and see her name underneath a recipe.
Through her I learned of a lot of my father’s childhood escapades (she was 5 years his senior) and a lot of family history. Some good, some horrible. Through her eyes, I saw my grandfather, who I never really knew. He died when I was just shy of 3. I learned of the gentle, kind man he was, who must have a saint’s patience, considering all he put up with. I learned of my grandmother’s way of parenting, which was to beat first, ask questions later, if at all.
When my father died, I think a lot of her did as well. She was never the same afterward. She was confined to a nursing home by that point, and was so deeply unhappy. She was so brave for so many years, but that bravery faltered and she tried to take her own life. She was unsuccessful. Her spirit was broken however, and I don’t think I ever saw her smile again.
Some months later she developed pneumonia. She was transferred to the ICU of the local hospital. She never went back to the nursing home. Instead she slipped away from us on New Year’s day. The story surrounding that I really don’t have the right to tell. The reasons why people were and weren’t around that day, and what they were doing as life left her body.
Once again, I stood in a cemetery and said goodbye to someone I loved so deeply, on a cold, January day. Maybe that’s why I hate the cold and the rain so much. They remind me of such loss.
I was sad for so many reasons that day. I was sad that I hadn’t done more. That I hadn’t stepped up and taken more control and responsibility for her and not let her go to that home in the first place. Had she been happy, I truly believe she would not have died that day.
She kicked ass as much as she could on that asshole of rheumatoid arthritis. In the end it wasn’t that disease that beat her.
But I don’t want her story to end that way. I don’t want to have you only remember the way she died. I want you to know the way she lived. She lived fully. She loved with all her heart. She was as much a mother to me as my own was, and in many ways more so.
Her voice, and it’s patient, calm tone is one that I carry in my head as I am dealing with my own daughter and her eleven millionth meltdown of the day.
When she’s older I will tell her all about her great aunt Marilou and how much she would have loved my sweet girl.
And how all of those emotions and love were brought forth today by a bar of Ivory soap.