Saturday, March 18, 2006

Remembering Aunt Doris

Photo of Aunt DorisThis week, my husband's Aunt Doris passed away at the age of 88. This loss feels very different than when we lost George's sister last month. While we are sad not to have Doris with us anymore, this was the completion of a long and good life. She had been losing her body to cancer the last couple of years, and as she herself would have told you, she was ready to go.

I only got to meet Doris a couple of years ago, when she moved down to Los Angeles from Redding (in northern California) to live near her son Mike. We had her over to dinner at our house, and she was immediately likeable, warm and easy to talk to, and very down to earth. George had been reluctant to come out to his family, apprehensive of the reaction from the conservative Seventh Day Adventist family and the gossip of a small home town. He'd been out to his family for many years now, but this evening was probably the first time he'd ever really talked about it with his aunt. Any apprehension about Aunt Doris was quickly put to rest, as she was clearly unwavering in her affection for George and warmly welcomed me. "You do what makes you happy, that's what's important to me," was her attitude. "And don't you worry about what other people say. Besides, as long as I'm around, they'll be wagging their tongues about me as much as you." She turned to me with a glint and a smile, and asked, "Did George ever tell you about my scandal? I know a thing or two about being a black sheep. Let me tell you my story."

She proceeded to tell how late in life after her husband had passed away, she shocked the family by marrying a man who was not only a generation her senior, but also happened to be the widower of Doris' late aunt! He wasn't a blood relation, but still many eyebrows were raised when she married her own uncle. She said she knew what she was doing (as well as what she was getting into marrying a much older man), and that it was a good thing to do. They had both always been fond of each other, they had both already raised families, and they knew they would enjoy each other's companionship for the rest of his life. She said that in retrospect, her second marriage was a happy as she had hoped for, and she got the added joy of becoming a surrogate mother to her second husband's children. When she told us to "do what you know is good and what makes you happy, and don't worry about what other people say", it was because she lived it herself.

Doris was not able to visit our home again, as cancer soon began to take her eyes and lungs. But her nursing home was not far from our church, and we would often stop in to visit her on Sabbath afternoons. The thing that amazed me the most about Doris was her spunk. She was always cheerful, and never uttered a bitter or complaining word, despite having plenty of cause for complaint or bitterness. (In her last year, she had lost both her eyes, and most of her mobility.) Not that she was blithely optimistic about her condition. She was fully aware of her condition and would tell you quite straightforwardly if you asked. But I just don't think she saw any point in complaining about things that couldn't be changed, and she had no time for dwelling on the negative. She preferred to chat about what her family and friends were up to, and what she'd heard on her radio talk shows, and small good things in her day-to-day. Every time we left her, I was always glad we had visited, and not just "I've done a good deed" glad. I genuinely enjoyed her company, and admired her spirit.

I wish she could have been spared the deterioration and discomfort of the last couple of years. I wish I would have met her sooner. But she wouldn't dwell on things that can't be helped, and neither should I. She lived a long life and a good life, and she exited with great grace. I am grateful I knew her, and I will remember her with admiration and affection.

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