Giving It ALL Away
Generosity. For THEM.
Where to begin?
I recently visited my oldest Aunt, who has succumbed to the limitations of her aging brain, resulting in her no longer recognizing my face. The last time I saw her, several months ago, she called me by Mum’s name, which pleased me beyond words. So, it was initially upsetting to see her now….weakened body….sunken cheek bones….her brow furrowed as she uncomfortably shifted her legs while continuing to sleep the afternoon away. As I sat there in the quiet of her room, gazing upon her and recalling the bits of life where our paths intersected, I felt compelled to not feel sorry for her.
In my last post, Generosity with US, I described the sacred moment of Mum passing onto whatever follows one’s last breath on earth. This week is not going to be another ‘death watch’ story, even though it is likely the last time I will see my Aunt, this side of heaven. Instead, this week is very much a ‘life watch’ narrative. Luckily, when I was younger, our large extended family gathered many times throughout the year. I had sleepovers with my cousins. We all went camping together in the summer. There were no shortages of positive interactions with my Aunt and the rest of my big family, but here are my top 3 dearest memories of this sweetheart:
She and my Uncle adopted their 3 children. In my eyes, it takes a special kind of person to adopt.
Because I did not have a mother to help me with childcare, Aunty generously came to babysit my first child, while I worked 2 jobs and ex went on a ‘vacation’ from his unemployment.
I received a gift from her on a random occasion. She had thought of me and bought it….a white T-shirt nightgown, with a swirling rainbow colored musical staff. The fancy black font read….
She and I both shared a love for singing, as did most of her other siblings, my father included. Singing was ingrained in my young heart, as I both listened and performed intently when given the opportunity at church, school or family functions. Music was always welcome….well, maybe not in Grade 2….Mrs. M’s class….who specifically asked my parents to discourage me from constantly volunteering solos at Show & Tell time. Aunty would never have stopped any of my songs!
Much history and wisdom was gleaned from the times I had her close….talking about things Mum and I never had the chance to….listening to her explain why she chose my Uncle over any other suitor. It was the life she wanted. She chose it.
Aunty told me it was not always easy being a Minister’s wife. They moved often, living frugally. They had family challenges like all normal families do, but with the added pressure of a parish audience judging every decision. Still, she smiled….and loved….and told funny stories in dramatic voices….giving me every reason to believe I was probably her favorite niece.
It was these thoughts that started to shift my focus from the shell of the woman I saw laying in that bed, to thoughts of the life she lived, and the people she loved. My cousin messaged me after the visit to share how her heart was breaking to see how helpless her mother had become, which I completely understand. However, I also could not help but count the number of years she had with her mom, this alone a blessing, and admit how many wishes I have whispered in vain, to have witnessed….Mum growing old; Using up her life entirely, until she had no more to live.
But just living your life up, does not seem to fit what was happening to Aunty. It looked to me like she had loved her life out.
She had given it all. Loved through it all.
My eyes were opening to a different perspective, seeing more than her outside appearance. I saw her heart and felt her spirit. It seemed logical that I could not be the only person she touched with the huge heart still beating within her laboring chest. I am certain that many were blessed by her wit, humility, and her gracious ability to put people at ease. One of the coolest things about my Aunt, was she married again after my Uncle and her second husband died earlier than expected. She never gave up on love!
For the couple of minutes she woke while I visited, she could not verbalize her needs, nor did she seem to comprehend my words. Amid the scrambled messages her brain was attempting to decode, she clearly recognized one thing:
When I said, I love you….we all love you very much, she smiled, releasing the stress from her brow for a moment, then closed her eyes to rest some more.
I came home that night and immediately told my girls to not feel sorry for me when I am no longer able to function, and to not let it break their hearts. The smart retort I got was, “You want us to just pull the plug?” I am used to their overwhelming empathy….just as they are used to me talking about how they can cope when I die. It is all very therapeutic for us….I think.
I am also thinking that living Generously in a global sense, has something to do with loving yourself completely out. Because I have had many weeks focussed on balancing the demands and desires of life, I am not suggesting being Generous with a larger community means we must sacrifice our sanity or health in order to say yes to everything and care for everyone. I think Generosity stems from more than a quantity of publically performed good deeds. I believe Maya Angelou was describing this concept when she said:
Too often I have gotten wrapped up in overthinking about what is the most sensitive thing to say….what is the exactly perfect thing to do. Perhaps those ideals do not exist. Maybe all I have to offer the people of this world, is a present moment. Accompanying someone, even for a brief period, without specific words or deeds lined up; Simply giving them time….and love. Currently, I would like to be a better Aunt, a better neighbour, a better co-worker, a better steward of resources available within my privileged birthright of North American culture.
Maybe that is why I have 2 icons this week….so I can get better. First, a mask Mum bought for my bedroom wall. It is lying on top of one of Mum’s most prized scarves….a silk, water color inspired, bird motif scarf. The mask reminds me to look beyond the exterior trappings of how human bodies can appear, to feel the beauty of a soul living underneath the surface. The scarf reminds me of the brief time available to each of us. We flit, we float, we fly.
I pray Aunty soon flies. I ended my visit by singing some old songs I remembered us singing together or talking about. As the songs came pouring out of my heart, I knew she was ready to sport her well matured wings, woven from years of loving through every cranny of her heart.
That will be how I remember her. She is what love looks like after a lifetime of constantly giving it away. In this light, she could not have been more beautiful.
This is the kind of legacy I would like to leave. The kind where family, friends and strangers alike, could pause to recount a moment of magic, where it was nothing I said….nothing I did….but yet it felt like everything.
I plan to use up every last ounce of love in me, and if the cost means lying quietly asleep until the day my breath goes out, it is the life I want.
I choose it.