My one living aunt died last week. For several years, I’ve watched this once energetic, always-on-the-go, immensely talented woman diminish from the devastation of Alzheimer’s, a disease described as “The Long Goodbye.” My aunt was a woman devoted deeply to God. Without one doubt, I believe she’s not in a mystical “better place,” but in a very real Heaven.
I’m not sad about my aunt’s passing. But, I’m saddened as I think about her husband of over 60 years. Much of my uncle’s heart has been taken. I’m sad for her three children who lost the mama who’d kissed childhood ‘owies.’ The mother who prayed God’s protection and good gifts on them for as long as she was able. I feel sad for my mother who says ‘good-bye’ to her only remaining sibling.
Saying goodbye to one we’ve loved—one whose life has intertwined with ours—hurts.
Connected with my aunt’s death, I‘ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about her life and its impact on mine. One story keeps rising like the cream that always rose in the fresh, raw milk I remember my aunt and uncle having in their home. I called it ‘farm milk,’ and much preferred drinking the pasteurized variety our family picked up at the Safeway store my dad managed. But, the cream that persisted in rising to the top of the gallon milk jug was amazing! My favorite childhood dessert was my aunt’s made-from-scratch angel food cake frosted with thick whipped cream that she sweetened with maraschino cherry juice. I tried, but was never able to duplicate its deliciousness!
While visiting with my aunt a few years ago, when Alzheimer’s was in the beginning stages, she told me what happens to be one of my favorite “letting go” stories.
First, allow me to tell you the back story.
Mom remembers her sister, who was less than two years older than she, as being one who loved music, possessed a great sense of rhythm and was forever singing and dancing around their home.
My grandmother and her daughters attended a tiny church, which was a focal point of their lives. A benefactor had given the little fellowship a piano, but no one was able to play the instrument.
As the story was told to me, one evening, during a time of prayer, the small band of women experienced a supernatural encounter. After that, my aunt was able to play the piano with skill and grace. No one doubted that her newfound ability was a gift given by God.
My aunt never learned to read music. She attempted piano lessons once, but after a few lessons, the teacher encouraged her to simply embrace the music that was in her heart. Every Sunday she played congregational hymns and choruses. She also accompanied vocalists and was able to transpose a song to fit any singer’s vocal range.
In my memory, I can still see her fingers flutter lightly over the keys—can still hear the tinkle of lovely arpeggios trailing behind.
For almost 50 years, every Thursday, she lugged her heavy accordion to the nursing homes in town. She sang for the residents and always spent time visiting and praying with them. This ministry continued in part even when her mind struggled to remember simple tasks. Alzheimer’s stole my aunt’s memory but couldn’t snatch away her God-given gift of music.
She never tired of doing what God had gifted her to do. Ray Johnston, author of The Hope Quotient, says, “When you are doing what God has wired you to do, you have energy.” Energy was indeed one of my aunt’s hallmark characteristics.
For many years, she served as her church’s main accompanist. Then a new pastor, whose wife was a classically trained pianist, arrived on the scene. My aunt told me she knew what was about to happen when she entered the church one Sunday morning shortly after the pastor’s arrival. Even before she was informed of the decision to replace her, she said she lifted her eyes to Heaven and said, “It’s all right, Lord. Thank you for the privilege of serving you all these years. Thank you for giving me the gift of music. Now I give it back to you.”
Today—the Sunday following her death—I imagine my aunt may be giving a little Heavenly piano recital for the one who gave her that amazing gift of music.
That thought makes me smile and lift my eyes toward Heaven. “Thank You, Lord, for giving me the privilege of hearing and telling my aunt’s special story of…
- The Hope Quotient, Ray Johnston, W. Publishing 2014, p.91Most of the flowers in our yard have ‘let go’ of summer, but this magnificent hydrangea remains. I wonder if it may have hung around as a tribute to my last-living aunt. ↑