It’s February, and a post about love seems timely, except this isn’t about Valentines or kisses.
Last December, to calm holiday nerves, I assured Word Nerd readers that there was no such thing as a perfect Christmas. Little did I know my words would be prophetic; my holiday was far from perfect.
My aunt, my mother’s oldest and last living sister, died early Christmas morning. The news hit me hard, not just because Christmas is supposed to be happy, but because my mother died when I was 25, and every death I’ve experienced since then reopens the hurt of losing her, especially this one, since it was her sister.
I have many fond memories of my aunt. As a child, I spent weeks during the summer at her house in New Jersey, going to swim lessons with my cousins because my mom was confined to a wheelchair and had no way of getting me to lessons at home. For a few glorious days, I knew what it was like to have siblings and a mom who could drive us to the mall or McDonald’s. I’ll never forget my aunt racing up a hill to the lap pool, holding nose plugs high, delivering them to me just before my final swimming test. (I was just eight, and I needed those plugs. I do fine without them now.)
At my wedding, my aunt took care of my mom so my dad could participate in wedding festivities, like walking me down the aisle. While Mom waited for us to finish taking photos after the ceremony, my aunt stayed by her side, keeping her calm in the July heat.
My mom died before I became a mother, but my aunt attended the baptisms of my children and sent them presents at Christmas. She remembered me on my birthday with beautiful cards and loved to see pictures of my kids as they grew. We didn’t speak often, but I knew she cared and wanted to hold the threads of our family together.
Five years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer and began a series of rigorous treatments with awful side effects. It became my turn to send cards and encouraging words. Again, we didn’t talk often, but I hope she knew I loved her and prayed for her.
So, of course, when she died, I traveled to New Jersey for the funeral. I wanted to be there for her three daughters who are now part of my special club of loved ones who no longer have mothers to guide them in this world. I held it together pretty well until I arrived at the funeral home and saw the pictures my uncle had gathered to commemorate my aunt’s life. There were group shots of my mom, who died in 1995, her younger sister, who died in 1994, her mother, who died in 1999, and of course, my aunt. Seeing their smiles, so long gone, broke me, and it took a long time to pull together again.
My youngest cousin had the difficult job of reading the eulogy. As she recounted her mother’s life, I learned things, like my aunt loved to write but had sacrificed a career in journalism to follow her husband and raise her family. Her pastor spoke of her works of service in her community and her key role in growing her church in its early years. Friends recalled her kindness and willingness to help, and her daughters expressed thanks for her many acts of love. As I listened to this celebration of a life characterized by charity, I felt like my aunt was giving me one last gift, a precious piece of wisdom.
I, too, gave up my career to focus on my family, and I have often struggled with feeling worthless, without professional title or income. But at the funeral, I realized, with a peace and certainty I’ve never had before, that a quiet life, lived in service to strangers and loved ones, is one well lived. All of us, whatever our calling or vocation, are never too big or too small to bring light and kindness into this world.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa.
In this season of political change and international instability, we need people like my aunt, to steady and assure us with small acts of love. And all the work can’t be done by other people. I must act as an instrument of kindness every day, no matter my title or income or emotional state.
Will you join me? The world needs us.
Thank you to Amy Makechnie for inspiring this post. Visit her blog for ideas of small things you can do for others. My friend Valerie also has some great ideas for showing love.
Who has been an example of kindness in your life? How do you do small things with great love?