Remembering My Aunt Helen
Death is not easy for the living.
We cry. We miss. We mourn. We ask why. We sigh. We cry again.
My Aunt Helen, my mother’s big sister, died earlier this week and she was buried yesterday. I don’t understand. She was alive at the beginning of the week and she was buried by the end of it. Perhaps I don’t want to understand. I’ve known her and loved her my whole life.
Death is hard for the living.
She was ill. She was in pain. She was a widow. Perhaps she was ready to be re-united with the love of her life, my Uncle Bill, who had passed away decades ago. She never remarried. She didn’t want to even consider the possibility. I asked her once why and she said she was already married. I never asked again. I understood.
My Aunt Helen was a devout Catholic. We all grew up Catholic, but she truly was a practicing Catholic. She and I used to have spirited discussions about the subject and we didn’t always agree on things.
As a precocious pre-teen, I questioned a great deal of things in Catholic school, mostly encouraged by the Sisters, but not so much in religion class with Father Daily. Frustrated by my many questions of faith, his Irish brogue would thicken, his face would turn bright red, and he stammered in anger. I had serious questions. I was looking for serious answers. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I wanted to understand.
“Why would God punish his children by sending them to hell? Why doesn’t he just forgive them?” “Why would God not like gay people, if he created them?” “Why doesn’t the Vatican sell all the paintings, mansions, jewelry, and fancy clothes the Pope wears and give it to poor people? Isn’t that what Jesus would do?” “How can I be sure the Bible depicts what God intended, when it has been written by men, fallible and biased; translated and published many times over?” “Why does God let good people suffer and die?” And on, and on, and on.
My questions were endless. Suffice it to say that in the middle of one of our religion classes, Father Daily walked out and could be heard yelling in the hallway at Sister Barbara about my incessant questions. From that day on Sister Barbara taught religion class. On days like that, I would talk to my Aunt about it, she was my resident Catholic expert. And even though I had those same questions and discussions with my Aunt, she never stormed out of the room and she always remained my loving Aunt.
Not surprisingly, I have a few more questions for her right now, “Why do we get angry at God when someone we love dies?” and “Why does it hurt so much?” I suppose those and other questions will have to wait for another day.
Remembering My Aunt Helen | Music: Coldplay “O” (Ghost Stories)
My memory highlights of my Aunt Helen include the summer of 1973. My brother and I spent most of the summer with my Aunt, Uncle, and our cousins, Maria, William and Danny. During the day, Uncle Bill went to work, my cousins and brother went to a day summer camp at the local school, and my Aunt and I spent the days together, watching the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Watergate hearings on PBS. We prepped food, we cooked, we baked, we cleaned, we talked politics. I enjoyed being alone with her. When she smiled, her eyes smiled first, and there was nothing sweeter than that. She was a stay-at-home wife and mother and she loved it.
My Aunt’s house was where many happy memories were made. We celebrated my First Communion there, as well as many birthdays and holidays. Her backyard was open to some vast New Jersey woods where my cousins and brother and I would play, explore, and pick baskets of wild blueberries for my Aunt Helen to bake into pies, cupcakes, and cakes. She was a good baker.
I remember one time that summer we were getting ready to go to the Drive-In. My Aunt had baked cookies and cupcakes; cut up fresh veggies; made sandwiches; put coffee in a thermos, for her and Uncle Bill; packed little cartons of milk and juice for the kids; gathered blankets and games for us to play while we waited for the movie to begin. She thought of everything. She looked to see what was available at the Drive-In. One movie caught her eye, “The Heartbreak Kid,” she thought that would be a good one for us to see, obviously about a little kid, who has his heart broken.
Sounded sweet. Except, that after we got to the Drive-In and the movie began, something happened in the movie early on that made my Aunt & Uncle quickly turn around, who in turn made us turn around, and banished us to play in the back part of the station wagon until the movie was over. To be honest, we had more fun playing in the back of that station wagon than we would have had watching any movie. Such is the nature of being a kid.
In all my Aunt’s sweetness, she also had a biting wit. When I was about eleven, we went to visit my Aunt and her family. I had not seen her in a few months and she appeared to have gained some weight. She was always very slender and so it took me aback for a moment and I remarked, “Aunt Helen, you’ve gained weight!” to which she replied, “I quit smoking. What’s your excuse?” I retorted, “I think puberty.” She snapped back, “Well, we all have our problems.” She was funny.
Words cannot begin to express how I feel. I have known and loved my Aunt Helen from the day I was born. I will miss and love her for the rest of my life. The shared memories are mine alone to keep now. The only comfort I find at this moment is in knowing that her long wait to be reunited with my Uncle Bill, the love of her life, is finally over. She must be very happy to be in his arms once again.
In the meantime, I will mourn her. I will cherish the memories. I will keep her close to my heart, deep in my thoughts, and always in my prayers.
Rest in peace, my dear Aunt.
“In the Memories We Sigh” is a song I began writing when my grandparents died more than 20 years ago. Over the years, I have added verses, as more and more people I know and love, family and friends, pass away. It is my memorial to them. It includes mention of my Uncle Bill. I guess I have more verses to write.
Martie Hevia (c) All Rights Reserved