Friday, September 20, 2013

In Memoriam: Aunt Susan

     My Aunt Susan (Auntie Sue to my siblings, cousins, and I) recently died at age eighty-three.  She was a wonderful woman (she really was, I'm not just saying that)—the closest thing to an angel come down from Heaven I have ever met.  Not that she was perfect—she once said a racist stereotype thing to me in passing that raised my eyebrows, but that was such an aberration that I dismissed it as a one-time lapse in judgment.  It never happened again.  She was the type that lived the mottos:  If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it, and, treat others as you would have them treat you.  I have no idea how she did it so consistently.  As a retired secretary and devout Buddhist, she volunteered for twenty-five years at her temple, so her faith probably had a lot to do with it.  Her husband, my Uncle Rod, a humorous, jovial man with only mild human frailties, predeceased her by a year-and-a-half.  A part of me sensed that after his slow, undignified death, which included a brain tumor and surgery that seemed to extract much of his soul, she allowed her will to live to slowly ebb away.  Her already frail body weakened, she had to use a wheel chair and walker, and eventually endure placement in a care home.  A year later, she suffered a series of “mild” strokes that eventually did her in.
     Auntie Sue and Uncle Rod had been such a happy honeymooning couple all their adult lives, that life apart from him eventually became unendurable for her.  She just couldn't bear being apart from him any longer, so she let herself go—not prematurely, but on her own terms, when she was ready.  Everyone had ample chance to say their good-byes, I love yous, and thank-yous to her while she was still mentally hale and in good spirits.  Her dignity and repose throughout the entire ordeal were inspiring.  She spent individual time with each of us in my immediate family when we visited her at her care home, asking us questions, responding to queries, giving us gentle assurances, and tender smiles and praises, that always cheered us up.  She liked to grasp one of my hands within the two of hers, nod, smile, and pat the back of it as I told her my own health concerns (which have since largely stablized or resolved.)
     My daughter and I (the tender-hearted ones in our family) sobbed throughout what we knew would be our final visit with her.   She made eye contact and a few soft gurgling vocalizations.  I bent near to hear, but didn't really want to understand because I knew whatever she said would just make me sob all the more—not that I have anything against sobbing, but I didn't want her to feel badly because of my sorrows over her.
     She had previously made clear that she was content with her situation—no regrets, no feelings of being cheated or short-changed, just mostly gratitude for everything because she had lived a...good life.  The way she nodded and smiled, her face effortless and at ease, you just knew she meant every word she said.
     It was apparent that her comfort always came secondary to that of those around her.  She gave us some of the best moments in her final year and even honored Jaren, our youngest, with a seat on her lap throughout the first half of what was to be her last, large family reunion, thus honoring our entire immediate family by extension.
     Her death left a gaping hole in our lives and we miss her dearly.  But I told her eldest daughter Lilith it's good that we grieve 'cause it shows just how much we love her and how lovable she is.  If we weren't grieving at all that would be a different story.
     My immediate family were fine throughout the memorial service (a part of me had been dreading it).  It was at the brief inurnment ceremony at Punchbowl Cemetery (Uncle Rod had served active duty in the Korean War) that I lost it and wept openly.  I was fine at first, feeling comfortable and relaxed.  We weren't even asked to offer incense powder (versus at the memorial service when my immediate family went forward when called upon and stood silently for a moment before the burner before returning to our seats relieved after the awkward moment of non-conformance).  The open-air ceremony was so peaceful—puffy white clouds hung in the blue, balmy skies beyond the crater's rim, manicured lawns shimmered beneath flags and trees whose leaves fluttered in a lazy breeze.  Being surrounded by loved ones—always close on Mom's side of the family—devoid now of yet another elder, I soon sensed Auntie Sue's presence, at least in thought, manifest by her raspy voice in my ear, a soft, gentle touch on the back of my hand, and her honoring manners that validated my soul.  A sudden well of emotions flooded my throat, and though I knew it was safe, and it was okay to cry, I nonetheless resisted, concentrating on the gazebo's eaves, but to little avail.  Deanne squeezed my hand tight as I convulsed beside her, teary and snuffling.  It was the most beautiful funeral service I had ever been to.

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