My memories won’t reveal her complete story. Perhaps she tried to give her secrets away, but as a twelve year old girl I probably wasn’t listening. And even if I paid attention, her words blended together, my focus scattered like a tourist exploring a new place for the first time.
This is what I know about her. She was my mom’s aunt, but more significantly, she arranged the marriage between my father and mother over fifty years ago. She was thirty-seven when she connected the two people who eventually made me. She passed away yesterday, seventeen days after I celebrated my thirty seventh birthday. Today I want to tell her story, the pieces I remember, for reasons I can’t explain. She passed a part of herself to my mom by teaching her to cook, the warmth of her history cuddles the belly of my own daughter even though they never met.
When we visited India in the summertime, my father would stay up until 2:00 a.m. in the morning and talk with her about his life in Texas, while she laughed, entertained by the adventures my mom and he shared. They had a place where these conversations took place, a huge light blue and green plaid hammock, a source of both happiness and sadness for me. My mom’s aunt asked me to sit on that hammock, but as I would get comfortable in the lull of the swing, my uncle would push me from behind, the high swing interrupting the tranquility of my breath. I’ve never liked the swinging feeling, the back and forth motion causing a tornado in my stomach.
Even now, as much as I want to, when I close my eyes, I’m uncomfortable with the swing between life and death. It’s the knowledge that behind the sweet kisses I bestow on my daughter’ s cheek, the bear hugs I give my Mom, the coffee talks with my sister, and the late night movies with my husband, the swing will eventually move in the opposite direction. The grasp of unexpected sadness is always in the background. It’s the swing, I tell you. The movement between the highs and lows of life will not allow me to relax in the present.
From my vantage point, the footprints of death always track mud, as much as I want to wash the remnants away, I cannot. Its impression is permanent, but yesterday, after hearing the news of her passing, I didn’t cry, but calm enveloped me. My mom’s aunt was 87 years old and for the last few years, her health was deteriorating, being jailed in her bed, unable to use the bathroom or walk. She wanted to escape the clenched fist of life. It reminded me of the final days of my own father, also confined to a bed, unable to bathe, eat, walk or experience with his own volition. He longed for a reprieve, much like my mother’s aunt.
Yesterday, for the first time, I was struck by the neutrality of the swing, the lull of the hammock and the realization that there can be some goodness in death.
Do you feel comfortable in complete happiness? Do you anticipate sadness? Have you ever experienced the goodness in death?
Image by jeffk via Creative Commons Flickr