I have an aunt who passed away a few days ago. She died alone and without the love of many friends or family. Most likely she suffered from mental illness. I'm obviously not a doctor but looking back, I would guess in her earlier years she probably had what we now call bipolar disorder. I doubt that she was ever treated for any of her emotional disturbances. In later years she became mean-spirited and alienated herself from those who wanted and tried to love her.
I don't know how this happens and I don't know what, if anything, could have been different. I'm feeling regrets for not reaching out to her in the last few years when I learned how alone she was and how difficult it was for her immediate family. I don't like to live with regrets...in fact I try to make a point not to. But I am living with this one.
I haven't been close to Aunt Nancy in probably 25 years. I have absolutely no explanation for that. She didn't live all that far away. And I liked her. I liked the Aunt Nancy I knew when I was growing up. I saw her often in those days, and by the time I was about 12 years old, she hired me to babysit. I admired her many talents. She was an accomplished seamstress. She was always coming up with a new craft to create. I still use Christmas tree ornaments she hand made decades ago. My grandchildren use a baby blanket she made for my younger son. They play with the Care Bear she made for my older son. We baked and sold Christmas cookies together for several years. We did craft shows together.
I remember there was always lots of intensity whenever Aunt Nancy was around. She was my mother's younger sister, and she lived her life a little more on the wild side than we did. She did a lot of things we didn't do as a matter of fact: she smoked, she drank, she played bingo, she used course language. And oh my could she get mad at the drop of a hat if something didn't go the way she wanted.
I still liked her. I admired her energy. I was impressed that her house was always clean and quite beautiful. She had a lot of knick knacks and some antiques and all kinds of interesting stuff. I wanted a house that looked like hers someday. She worked hard at it and I think some of that did rub off on me.
When my cousin, Aunt Nancy's daughter, had a baby out of wedlock, my aunt helped raise her granddaughter. Years passed and the little girl grew up and has a husband and children of her own now, and lives within walking distance of me. The other night we chatted on line after Aunt Nancy died. She said she and her mom and the others all wish things could have been "different" ~ meaning that the relationships weren't good. I told of how much her grandmother loved her when she came along, and how she helped her mother take care of her.
I told her to hang on to the good memories and let God sort out the rest. That's all I can do now too. I don't know that it would have done any good for me to contact Aunt Nancy and try to make amends for...what?? There was never anything amiss between us as far as I knew. But all around me I knew things were not right in her relationships with others close to me and those who she should have been close to. Maybe that's why I stayed away. Maybe I didn't want to chance my own memories being tarnished. That's not a real good excuse, is it? But it's the only one I can think of. Maybe I knew in my heart I couldn't change her. Maybe I was afraid she would reject me as she had rejected others. I don't know. But I will hold onto the good memories and let God sort out the rest.
I have a favorite quote from the movie, A River Runs Through It. The Reverend Maclean, a Presbyterian minister, is speaking to his congregation after the death of his wayward and rebellious son, Paul:
"Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them ~ we can love completely without complete understanding."
Today I choose to love Aunt Nancy completely without complete understanding. I had many opportunities to witness the good fruit of her life before whatever emotional or mental illness it was that overtook her. I choose today to remember the Aunt Nancy I knew and admired, yes loved so many years ago. I choose today to weep with those who weep for their loss, mainly the loss of what should have been and now never will be. And I recommit myself to live today and every day to the fullest and seek to keep peace in all my relationships.
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:18 NIV