My very first mentor was my Dad’s little sister, my “Auntie Omi”. She was there the day I was born. I was there the day she died.
She stepped in when I was only a zygote and wrote herself into my story. When my Dad was sent out-of-town on business, she stayed. She was the one who drove my Mom to the hospital. She was there when I was born. I could always count on her.
She was my unofficial tour guide to life. Whether it was letting me watch Grizzly Adams and Dukes of Hazzard when my parents didn’t have TV, or taking me to visit her office, she opened up a whole new world to me. She taught me my first joke and then listened patiently while I told it to her 5 million times over the next year. It was only slightly more sophisticated than the chicken crossing the road. It goes something like this:
Why did the fireman wear red suspenders?
To keep his pants up!
ha ha ha ha ha ha…
…ahhhh, good stuff!
When I was a teenager, she did something amazing and totally crazy. She adopted a child. A single women adopting an older child from the foster care system is spelled R-A-D-I-C-A-L, no matter where you come from. But it’s an awesome brand of crazy! It’s also spelled B-R-A-V-E and C-O-M-P-A-S-S-I-O-N-A-T-E.
My aunt was flesh and blood altruism. Her journey was a lot messier, more confusing and more exhausting than she (or any of us) were prepared for. My cousin was 8 when she joined our family, and it was quite a ride for both of them. Watching my aunt learning to love her daughter did me more good than the hundreds of sermons I’ve heard in my life. She wasn’t perfect, but she was faithful and committed. She was a great mom. You could always count on her.
Even as an adult she looked out for me. When we moved halfway across the country, she started sending our family care packages of totally random things she had found in thrift stores or antique markets: a set of tea towels, a weird night-light, blank video tapes, socks, a ceramic bird… Just between you, me, and the entire internet, I didn’t need any of this stuff. Sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. But I loved those weird packages just the same. It was her way of looking out for us. I knew she was thinking about me.
She gave the toast to the bride at my wedding, and I gave the toast to the bride at hers. I dressed all three of my daughters in fluffy blue dresses so they could precede her down the aisle. At a young fifty-something years old, she had finally met the love of her life.
It’s a beautiful story, plus now I can honestly say that “Bob’s my uncle”, which is just as funny years later as when I first said it (obviously my sense of humor hasn’t matured much since the fireman’s suspenders). My girls referred to them as “the bride and her prince”. They were so happy together and it breaks my heart that their time together was so short. Life, and especially death, just isn’t fair!
As I wrote the eulogy for her funeral 2 years ago, I realized that I had, more often than not, written it in the present tense. My aunt is brave, she has a great sense of humour… As I went back to change everything into the past tense it occurred to me – she still is. She still is all those things and more. Like her, I trust the promise that heaven is a place where weaknesses fall away and we fully become our true selves.
I’m not exactly sure what the afterlife will be like; none of us know, really. But I do know that my Aunt loved God faithfully all her life. The bible talks about us having a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11), and I can’t imagine anyone better suited to watch over us, pray for us and cheer us on. She was always taking care of us. It’s what she did best, and we miss her terribly.
My memories of my aunt may grow hazy as the years go by, but I will never forget who she was. I know I am a better person for all her support and her example. Her death was a terrible blow. But I did not lose her, not really. She is one of the voices in my head. Because our best mentors never leave us.
So here’s me, knowing someday I will be the voice in someone else’s head. I hope I have a Scottish accent.
Who are the voices in your head? What kind of things do they whisper to you?