By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Today was the strangest kind of sad day. My mother called early this morning to tell me the news I’ve known for months now would surely come – my great Aunt Eunice had passed away during the night.
When you know a death is close at hand, the news of it hits you a little differently. My aunt was an incredible 105-years-old. She lived independently in a little house in the country for 103 of those years. But the last two years brought a decline in her health and her vision, so she moved into a nursing home. About a week ago, she fell and broke her hip, and we all knew that fall would likely lead to the end.
All day I’ve been wondering why tears haven’t come for me yet. I know they’re in there, and they’re coming. But not today. When I heard the news, I immediately remembered the prayer I said for her last night as I was waiting to fall asleep. I prayed she would not be in pain from that broken hip, that she would not feel afraid and that she would feel peaceful. And her passing brought answers to all three of those requests. I felt an odd sense of relief that she was now free of all the physical sufferings that weighed her down these past few months.
Mingled with the relief is a sense of thankfulness. My family has experienced a death before that was sudden and jarring – the kind of shock that sucks the breath out of you and leaves you devastated and robbed. But this wasn’t like that. Aunt Eunice had a long, wonderful life full of great stories and great love, and we got to be a part of that life for as long as possible. There is no anger, no regret and no “if only.”
I imagine the tears will probably come in a few days at her funeral. When I walk into the small country church where she attended for so many decades and see that she’s not sitting in one of the pews, the loss will be real. Selfishly, I will wish for one more visit with her, for one more dinner around her kitchen table, for one more Christmas at her little house in the country.
There are no new moments to have with her, but there are so many of them to remember. After her husband died, Aunt Eunice lived with my grandmother for many years, so I always thought of her as my bonus grandma. I spent nearly every Sunday afternoon of my childhood with her. I’d follow her out to the chicken coop to collect the eggs and then skip along beside her as she went out to feed dinner scraps to all the stray cats that wandered up to her house to find a meal. During the summers, she showed me how to walk through her huge garden without squashing any of the vegetables nestled on the rows, and in the winters she showed me how to crochet blankets from colorful bundles of yarn.
One of my favorite memories is of the time she taught me a “word game” that I always thought she had made up just to entertain me. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time, and I’d sit with her for hours playing with sentences she wrote out for me. A few years later in school, I realized that the “game” she’d taught me was actually complex sentence diagramming. Aunt Eunice was a pro at it, and her love of words rubbed off on me. She taught me that words and language and writing could be fun.
For that memory and so many others she left me with, I am grateful. This is a sad day, but I can’t help but feel happy that I got to be part of her life. She was warm and gracious, and she was also strong, smart and incredibly kind. The tears will certainly come because even 105 years aren’t enough with someone like her. But I know this for certain. She is part of me – now and forever – and, for that, I am blessed.