Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012.01.22 Aunt Florence

When Aunt Florence comes into a room she has a neon effect. It’s her smile. It crinkles her already well-creased 101 year old face with sheer welcoming pleasure. And you’re sure she loves you without reserve.

I’m sure she has her moods and her toughness. I’ve just never seen them because I never met her till I was approaching my sixth decade and she was in her ‘80s. She isn’t even my aunt and she isn’t even my husband’s official aunt. She was his mother’s best friend for many years and that counts for extreme aunterly love, something some biological aunts often are unable to provide.

The first time I met Aunt Florence we were on our way to Harrisburg PA. to see the real aunt and stopped in New Jersey so I could meet the surrogate. She lived in the same house where she and her late husband, Uncle John, had raised two children. We have photos of Dick’s mother, Aunt Fran to Florence’s children, playing with Florence’s daughter.

Aunt Florence welcomed me with no obvious reserve. After all I was the “other woman” after Dick’s divorce— and a woman priest. Florence had been against the ordination of women priests. I don’t know if she changed her mind on that but I knew she wasn’t against me.

The lunch was simple, tuna fish sandwiches I think, but she set her table with elegance as if for best company.

After our first meeting I wrote Florence a note to ask if it was all right to call her Aunt Florence, too. You know the answer.

In time Aunt Florence moved to MD to live with her daughter. We’ve traveled to see her a few times and this last time, December 2011, we made an unplanned trip because Aunt Florence had just been diagnosed with a malignant tumor. She didn’t want treatment only good care and hospice, and the same loving family that already surrounds her. We went to see Aunt Florence before she died.

Do you know how hard it is to say good bye for ever to someone who is alive and looks well, has no pain, is vital and vibrant?

She told us that what had kept her so alive were the children— grand children and great grandchildren. They’d flock around her like birds all chittering at once. She was gracious with each and all and even did some tutoring till she reached 100 and had to slow down a bit.

Then how surreal to have the usual Christmas phone conversation 2 weeks after the last farewell. And who knows? Given Florence's resilient spirit she might make 105.

Her prayer request was like most people’s: to die peacefully in her sleep. And that Dick would be at the graveside to say prayers when her ashes were committed in the same N.J. plot where her husband is buried.

There is ample room for such goodness in the soul of God.