We celebrated my Great Aunt Lucile’s 103rd birthday last Friday. The next day she broke her hip and came through surgery with flying colors. But apparently she was in a lot of pain and due to complications she passed away in her sleep on Sunday.
I know it sounds crazy to say this given her age, but it was still a real shock. We just saw her in the hospital last week and I didn’t have a single thought that it would be the last time I held her hand.
She was always full of a strong and quiet grace. The only time I ever saw her worried was the summer that the fire was approaching her house and she had to choose which of her lifetime of things to pack in the car. I could understand that panic and was happy to help. The fire never reached us but that was probably the closest I ever felt to her. Or rather, it was one of the few times that it was just she and I. Most of the time we were part of a big family, across the table at Thanksgiving, two generations away, sitting on different branches of the tree.
In many ways she was so different from me. I suspect that she was a political conservative but I’m not sure how she thought about most things. I never knew her to spout opinions, to call attention to herself, or to talk bad about others.
Maybe she was too busy doing. She had a huge loom in the living room for years and made tiny loops of lace with her own hands. I know that she was very close to her sisters, was even living in the same nursing home with one of them for the last couple of years. I don’t know her sister but I think about her these days. Gus and I popped in a few times to visit and the last time they were playing Bingo in the morning. She was a bit hard of hearing over the last years but bright eyed and present.
She was 100 years older than Gus. Just think of the changes she saw: the Wright Brothers first flew the year she was born and Einstein’s theory of relativity was published when she was two. She saw the invention of corn flakes, color photography and instant coffee by the time she entered school. She also saw the invention of movies, zippers, cross word puzzles, band-aids, insulin, frozen food, nylon, and canned beer -along with velcro, credit cards and fast food. Finally, she lived through 2 world wars, a great depression and the mapping of human DNA.
Last Christmas we had a talent show with the family and Aunt Lucile read out this quote by Mother Teresa: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” I can only imagine as she looked out on her birthday and thought of her children, her grandchildren and their own children –that she must have felt pretty pleased about doing just that.