The grande dame of our family died this spring.
Aunt Glenan was the strong-willed family planner who did not invite you to dinner so much as issue a command performance, and who loved nothing more than pulling together her six children, plus their spouses and children and their children for big, chaotic, home-cooked potlucks.
After my mom died in 2001, she forcefully told me I was not to come to the estate sale she would run at my mom’s house. I should take anything I wanted in advance, put a price on anything I felt strongly about, then get out of her way. She drafted her kids to work, then delivered me an envelope of cash and an emptied house.
It wasn’t immediately thereafter, but still thinking of my mom and how grateful I was for my aunt’s support, one night I had an intensely vivid dream that I should take my uber-Catholic aunt to Rome for Easter.
I called to ask if she’d like to go with me to see what was likely to be Pope John Paul II’s last Easter mass, and at first, she offered excuses about money and her health … then she realized I was offering a gift from the modest life insurance my mom had left me.
Once she believed I was serious, she quickly began preparations, including getting her first-ever passport and asking her parish priest to help secure seats at the Vatican.
It was a difficult trip in numerous ways. I love to explore cities on foot and I hadn’t expected walking even short distances to be as tough for her as it was. I wanted to eat authentic Italian in small, local restaurants, while she found it frustrating when no one spoke English and she couldn’t get Italian like she recognized it from back home. I loved drinking house red wine while she grumbled about the price of Diet Pepsi but got it anyway.
I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Traveling with someone can test your relationship and I worried we were too out of sync for either of us to enjoy ourselves.
I had long since left the Catholic church so the payoff of Easter was for her, not me. Or so I thought. The Easter Sunday crowd was huge, the line was long, it was tough to hear, but knowing how much it meant to her to take communion at the Vatican on the holiest of days told my heart that my dream was right. It wasn’t easy, but I’d been able to give her something she would have never done otherwise.
One night when we were back at the hotel, and she said she was too tired to go do anything more, we sat in her room and talked for hours. She didn’t have to tend something on the stove or hustle around with other hostess duties, she could just sit and relax, something I’d rarely seen her do. For that alone, it was worth flying to another continent.
At my aunt’s funeral, she laid in her casket holding a rosary she bought in Rome on our trip. My cousin insisted I take it afterward.
It doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did to Aunt Glennie. For her, it was a holy tool for prayer and reflection. To me, it’s a reminder to follow my heart toward expressions of love and gratitude, even if they seem a little crazy, even if they’re difficult. That showing affection and gratitude means meeting people where they are, loving them for who they are, even when it’s challenging.
Aunt Glennie’s birthday is coming up Monday, the first since she’s been gone. I don’t think I’ll pray the rosary but I will give a prayer of thanks for that difficult, wonderful shared memory.
Categories: home and family