Aunt Betty

My dad’s baby sister was a law unto herself. She had been a beautiful young woman, could have had any man she wanted. Dad always said she was terribly spoiled because she was the baby, the first girl-child in several generations, and so very pretty. I suppose prettier people have others of us at a disadvantage, but I didn’t think much of it. We only visited her once, in New Jersey, with her family.

Then she grew older, her daughters grew up and moved on with their own lives, her husband passed away. So she moved south to be closer to my dad. Mom had passed away and Dad had remarried a person Aunt Betty had also known because “Hat” (short for Harryet) had been a part of their growing-up lives. In summers Hat would visit them from her home in Kansas to where they lived in Colorado Springs.

Aunt Betty had never said much, not to me anyway. Dad always said she was self-centered. Why that justified her taciturn manner I have no idea, I always saw her as slightly eccentric but very sweet.

Dad took care of many things for Aunt Betty. He bought his nieces their prom dresses, gave Aunt Betty financial assistance whenever she asked for it. She would give Dad a “wish list” every month of things she wanted or needed- a television, computer paper, pens, supplies for her endless genealogy research, bird seed for her little but very unfriendly parakeet. Dad would peruse the list and purchase those things he knew she truly needed, occasionally omitting one or two things she didn’t really need. Then Dad passed away. My brother and I lived out of town and would alternate our visits with Dad. The weekend he moved on to his heavenly home was my weekend to be with him. As I arrived at the health center where he was staying at the time Aunt Betty was sitting outside. I greeted her.

“I’m waiting for my ride to take me back to Southminster,” she said, then, “your dad won’t let me have his car.”

Aunt Betty had recently been in a car wreck where, having gotten lost, she drove her car up over a median and broke an axle.

“Maybe he is worried more for your safety, Aunt Betty,” I replied. And added it was good to see her looking so well. Her ride drove up and I went in to see Dad.

He died the next day. Eventually, over the next year or so, other circumstances brought me back home to NC where Aunt Betty still lived. I would visit her on weekends, see how she was, catch up on news of her daughters and have lunch. I enjoyed those visits and she seemed to enjoy them, too. I moved away again, back to where I had been living in New Mexico and after a few months began arranging to return home to North Carolina. Before I made the move my cousins contacted me to say Aunt Betty was unwell and in hospital. No one really knew what was going on or what to do. Then she passed away.

The last time I had seen her she was concerned about a pivotal event in her life that had happened many years earlier. She had been a teenager. She had an argument with her mother. I don’t know what about, but her mother left for the afternoon and was struck and killed by a car. Aunt Betty was quiet a few moments after talking about this, then slowly said, without looking at me, “Do you think it was my fault?”

This greatly surprised me. “Of course not!” then I realized: over these however many years, had Aunt Betty been carrying this dreadful weight around, afraid to speak it, afraid to laugh, afraid to live? I felt a deep sadness for her, for this life she’d somehow endured, looking out through her self-created prison of guilt and remorse and grief over the loss of her mother, blaming herself.

That sort of unforgiveness is crippling. But she had allowed, through a marriage, the birth and rearing of two lovely daughters, the death of her husband and the rest of her life, this to keep her from taking a breath in freedom. She had a strong faith and spoke of it often, of her love for Jesus but I cannot help think she never allowed that love and grace to be hers.

I pray she found that forgiveness in her passing from this life to the next. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:10

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