Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Aunt Mary was my late father’s eldest sibling; she was born on November 25, 1912 and so was just a few weeks past her 101st birthday when she died on December 28, 2013. She made her appearance just seven months after the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. The ship was supposed to be unsinkable but was not; we had about decided that Aunt Mary was.
Gratefully, when we last saw her at Thanksgiving, she was still herself; her eyes were bright and her mind was sharp. She could still walk with a little assistance. A few days later her body decided that enough was enough and she just died. It wasn’t a bad way to go.
Aunt Mary witnessed a lot of changes during her long life; as our son put it, she lived through “The Great Depression, two World Wars, and Little Richard.” She also experienced a lot of loss—she lived through the deaths not only of her parents, eight younger siblings, and her husband, but also both of her children, one of whom died following an accident when he was a youngster and the other who died of cancer at age 60 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Yet still she had joy. The last time we saw her, we saw her laugh and smile. In fact, every time we saw her, we saw her laugh and smile. Her smile was a knowing smile; it had a tinge of sadness to it. It wasn’t the kind of fake smile that pretends that everything is all right; it was rather a genuine smile that revealed a conviction that life is tough but you go on living it as best you can anyway. Perhaps such knowing, realistic joy is a gift from God. If so, she accepted it with as much grace as anyone I have ever known.
That’s not surprising because Aunt Mary had the ability to accept good gifts with great grace. There was something about her that called forth love; as our daughter put it, “How could you not love Aunt Mary?” And she gladly received love without giving the impression that she deserved it or that she expected anything more than the love itself. My experience with people tells me that the ability to receive love with such grace and humility must not be easy. Again, perhaps it is a gift from God.
Paul McCartney was thinking of a dream he had dreamed in which his mother Mary appeared to him when he wrote the words “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’” When I remember Aunt Mary, I will think of her sad and knowing smile and of her acceptance of the joy and pain of life and love and I will hear her speaking to me those same words of wisdom: “Let it be” …