Monday, November 3, 2014
Not "Just" an Aunt
Two years ago she moved much closer to us, but we still don't make the time to see each other as much as we would like. School and work and routine conspire against us. Many nights she'll be at home on her computer, and I'll be sitting on the couch watching tv 2 hours away, when we could be doing it "together."
When we are in the same room, we're the queens of parallel play.
Our interests rarely intersect, but it's nice to be near each other, no matter what's going on. She thinks running marathons and going to bed by nine is the way to go. I'm all about staying up late, sleeping in, and my running shoes are just to pair with my yoga pants when it grows too cold for flip-flops. Not that I even do yoga.
Oh, and did I tell you she's a yoga instructor?
She likes gadgets and technology, and is the sole reason there are any digital photos of my kids before 2006. She is also the queen of comfortable shoes and makes my sensible Aerosoles and LifeStrides look like Jimmy Choos.
She is also far more generous than I am. She'll find something she likes, a lot, and will buy one, then two, then....
L: "I got this great deal on puffy vests from Old Navy! I got one in this color and that color and I want to get one for you..."
A: "But I'm not sure I need another puffy vest..."
L: "Your puffy vest is on its way! Puffy vests for all the land!"
I'm more of a "I really like this shirt, and I hope I don't have to give it to someone off my back" kind of girl.
So we are quite different. But we are extremely close.
I met with a lovely writer this week to talk about writing and grief, and she and I talked about our losing Jack, and her losing her beloved nephew. As she began to share about her grief, she made sure to preface it with, "Please know I am not trying to compare losing my nephew to losing my child," but she went on to describe their years of closeness and the gaping hole his death left in her life.
Her preface was kind and sensitive, but in this case totally unnecessary; I have never doubted for one second how devastated my own sister is over the loss of Jack, and how his death changed everything.
She was there when he took his first breath.
She spent a few years as "Auntie Yiz" when Jack couldn't pronounce his "L's" and eventually just became "Auntie." She was generous with my kids, staying up to date on their interests and getting a kick out of their personalities, even across the miles.
Sure, we regret times we did not make the effort to travel to see each other as often as we could have. We regret how we judged each other's parenting, both of us in the trenches with little ones at the same time, bringing the same childhood background but different personalities to our mothering as we do to everything else.
I know that when we lost Jack, Liz lost BIG.
Aunts (and uncles and best friends and neighbors) are sometimes thrust into caregiving roles at the very moment their own worlds have suddenly fallen apart. I think of Liz driving 5 hours through the darkness to get to us as soon as she heard Jack was missing. Of serving as a gate-keeper in dealing with the press and the outpouring of love, grief, and support that was coming our way while her brain was fractured and her heart broken. Of trying to support us the best way she could, while worrying about her own children and how they would survive their cousin's tragic death.
She wrote a speech about what she had learned from Jack, which captured his essence, to be read at his funeral. She had to try to put her own grief aside almost immediately, in the effort to HELP and to PROTECT us. What a burden those first hours, days, and weeks were to her. She was in triage mode, as we all were.
And those of us who grieve know that after those busy times, come quieter times, when you must figure out how to go on. She had to learn how to keep mothering in the face of loss, even when looking at her son, Jack's best friend, was so painful. How to encourage us to still get together, even though Jack's absence made those first visits horrific.
How to deal with the anger and bitterness.
How to try to make peace with God.
Liz did her grief work while she ran and ran and ran, logging in an unbelievable number of miles that first year.
I did my grief work while writing, showing up at this computer day after day.
Yes, her grief is different than mine, but an Auntie's loss is real.
The death of a child, the death of anyone, extends beyond just one household. Yes, you can eventually turn your focus back to the ones in your care, under your roof, or on your insurance plan, but the eyes with which you gaze on them see with a different perspective than before. Your heart is not the same either. There has been a shift. You know the fragility of life. You feel the absence that one person can leave. You realize that the present you are looking at could have and should have been different.
Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbors suffer. They need love and support for themselves, even as they are trying to give it to the parents and siblings of those who have died. They need time to reassess in the wake of a tragedy, to find ways to cope, to plumb the depths of their despair, to examine their beliefs to try to make sense of what feels senseless.
They may not get as much grace and latitude as those "closer" to the death do, but they need it just as much. They still cry in their beds at night.
And are more than "just" anyone.