This is a bonus blog from A Slice of Orange’s Blog Editor–Jen Apodaca. We have filled up all the available spaces so I’m sneaking my blog in on a Sunday!
I came on scene in the middle of their story. By the time I was born, my Aunt Edith and Uncle Dick had been married 22 years already. To me, they were always larger than life. They had a fiery passion for social justice, they lived well and traveled the world, and they suffered some of life’s very cruel pains with dignity and strength.
My dad suddenly died when I was 13. In spite of their own grief, my aunt and uncle stepped up, making sure my mom had family support, and for me, the youngest, and only child left at home, they made sure I learned the stories that kept my dad close in my heart. They arranged family reunions to keep my dad’s side of the family together, events that have very special memories for my kids.
When my mom was dying, it was my aunt who supported me. Even though Aunt Edith was starting to struggle with her own illness, she kept up regular phone calls that were my lifeline. I was making hard decisions and she reassured me over and over that my mom trusted me implicitly and told me to never second guess her trust or love for me.
On our last Thanksgiving all together, my uncle and I were doing the dishes (he truly is a man before his time), and my uncle was telling me another story about my dad as a fighter pilot in World War II.
It finally dawned on me that for all these years, my uncle was giving me a gift of knowing my father through him. It’s a priceless gift that I will always treasure. I vividly remember looking at my uncle and asking him what he did in the war. It took some real work to get it out of him that he flew the planes that carried wounded soldiers to safety and medical care. He told me that he wasn’t as good a pilot as my dad. I beg to differ, he was a hero. And my dad would agree. I hugged him, embarrassing him to no end.
They meant the world to me, my aunt and uncle. But they weren’t finished teaching me.
Finally at 87, my aunt was dying. The courage of her and my uncle was tremendous. They accepted reality with such stunning grace. My sister and I went to spend some time with them. A moment that stood out was my uncle sitting by my aunt’s bed and adjusting it patiently to find a comfortable position.
She teased him with what little breathe she had left that he had to sit there and wait while she “tested” the position.
He looked at her with a private smile. A smile that melted the years off both of them, stripping away the illnesses and heartbreaks of life to reveal the lifetime of love between them. A love that I imagine was only a seed when they took their vows in that chapel over 65 years ago. A love that grew into a life force of its own, so vast and powerful that I knew not even death would extinguish it.
I saw what a lifetime of love looks like in that moment, and it is a rare thing of true beauty. I will carry that memory in my heart for the rest of my days.
My aunt took her last breath with my uncle by her side holding her hand. Death may have parted them, but their love lives on.