Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 2015 - A moment of warmth and light.

January 30, 2015.

Soft afternoon sunlight fills her clean spacious bedroom. Drawn-back white gauze curtains barely stir as a warm Florida breeze carries in a floral note that mingles with the purple orchid on her dresser, flows across the black and white photos of her son's wedding and around the framed printed messages of Christian hope and faith. The breeze, the warmth and the light nestle into the blankets and pillows that fill the space between my aunt's now frail body and the oversize recliner that supports her. The breeze, the warmth, and the light are relaxing, soothing and almost enough to completely erase the tiny occasional odor that arises from her colostomy bag like a nagging reminder of her painful inoperable cancer.

I hug my Auntie gently and kiss her cheek. Her skin, soft and cool against my lips, is taut across her cheekbones; wrinkle free and youthful. I tell her the second kiss is for my wife. With a smile, she says "what about the kids?" With a smile back, I kiss her cheek again, again and again - naming each of my children - before sitting in other chair in the room.

I am almost 50 years old and I still call her Auntie just as she still calls her father Daddy. In my dad's family, it's an unspoken understanding that "Uncle" and "Auntie" and "Daddy" are names of endearment that we never outgrow and one day hope to earn.

Auntie tells me I look tired. I laugh at the irony and deny it even as I remember yesterday's long bike ride on my winter legs and wonder if that effort and the travel to Florida is that easy to see on my face. She ignores my denial and tells me I should rest.

Auntie is about a dozen years older than me. As children, my brother and I would spend a good part of the summer at my grandfather's house and Auntie was one of the three young aunts who took on the lion's share of caring for us while we were there. Over forty years later, the age difference seems less significant, but she is still my Auntie. She tells me to move my chair and, step by step by step, where and how to position it. I follow each instruction. She tells me to recline the chair so my feet are up. I do. The warm breeze and the afternoon light from the open window caress my cheek and shoulders as it flows into the room. "Yes," - I agree - "this is more comfortable."

We talk. We visit. She gives me some details about her condition - enough to convey the gravity of her situation -  but not enough to dilute the warmth and light in the room. "It's in God's hands" she tells me. If he spares her life, she wants to evangelize and spread his word. But if this is her time, then it is her time. I think back to a decade ago when my father died of cancer. Auntie and I talked back then too. I remember how then she was afraid of cancer; scared of dying. She, like I, wanted to have her father's genes who, at 98, is still doing well.

"You must think I am in denial." She looks directly at me, unwavering, waiting for an answer. Her eyes, clear and attentive, lock on mine to see the truth behind anything I might say in response. In her eyes I see her grace, her strength and her concern. I answer with the truth. "No. I don't." I look directly back at her, unguarded and honest, so that she can see the truth in what I say.

We talk. Sharing stories and catching up. We laugh. I wait patiently as she summons the strength and will to grit through the effort of repositioning herself in the chair with my uncle's assistance. When she is comfortable again. We pick up where we left off.

The pain medication eventually make her sleepy and I have a plane to catch so, after another hug and kiss goodbye, I step out into fading afternoon light to start the journey back north where the temporary chill of winter awaits.


February 10, 2015

My aunt lost her battle with cancer today. Her unwavering faith in God gave her so much strength, grace, courage and peace even in the painful last days of her life. It was a minor miracle to behold and a true testament to her faith. Rest in peace Auntie. Your smile and laughter will be missed.

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