At 3:35 this afternoon, my Aunt Mary fell asleep in the Lord.
It wasn't entirely unexpected; she was 83 years old, she had macular degeneration and a wonky heart, and her life over the past year had been rather wretched: one of her sons had mortgaged her house, then defaulted on it, so that she was forced out of a house she had lived in for almost 60 years. She didn't want to move out to Vancouver, where this son's job is; she didn't want to move in with her other son, whom she never liked; so the alternative was to move her up to NH, where she had two nieces and a nephew to keep an eye on her. That move seemed to do something to her soul. She became very bitter, very suspicious of people, and ironically, the only person she really trusted was the son who had occasioned the foreclosure!
So her passing is somewhat of a blessing. What bothers me about it, though, is that for the past year, her entire conversation consisted of reminiscences about her "womanizing" father (not that we ever heard from anyone else in the family!), her "stupid" husband, her "sneaky" second son, and her "brother-in-law, who treated her sister so bad" -- since that particular brother-in-law happens to be my stepfather, who worshipped the ground my mother walked on, that was especially tough to put up with. And I used to think about how she would carry that bitterness of soul with her into the next life, and wonder what I could do to get her out of that mode of thinking, so that she could face God with something positive. I never did figure it out.
This afternoon, after she passed, her sons, my sister, my brother, and I sat around making jokes about her life, and about her "setting heaven on its ear" once she got together with her brothers and sister, and that bothers me, too: I know what Orthodoxy says about our passage from this life to the next, I know that it isn't the current "floating-to-a-better-place" Feel-Good b.s. that our culture promotes. And yet, for that short space of time, I bought into it. On the other hand, what the heck was I supposed to say?!
Well, it can certainly be said that she lived life to its fullest: not just in negative ways, like her drinking and smoking and doing pretty much whatever she felt like, regardless of how her husband felt about it, but also, in the way she opened her home during the post-WWII housing shortage to any of her relatives who needed a place to stay. She took in three cousins (that I know of, there may have been others), her brother and his wife, who lived with her for a number of years, and at one point, one of my brothers who was separated from his wife. (Not all at once, of course!) They lived with her and her husband and sons, paid her rent as they could, ate from her table, and enjoyed her hospitality as long as they needed it. When she and her sister (my mother) bought a summer home in NH, that too became a vast open house for whoever wanted to vacation near the White Mountains. There's no way I could do something like that.
We all have our gifts, and hers was a strong sense of family. I hope it will cancel out any of the negatives in her life, and there were many. May your memory be eternal, Aunt Mary!