I’ve always felt weird about people expressing pride in me or my accomplishments. I’m not entirely sure why. It might have something to do with not really focusing on them past the point of the actual act. It immediately becomes a thing I did, it’s past. That’s not to say I’m not proud of myself and my accomplishments, just that I don’t spend a lot of time being proud in the moment.
Luckily for me I have never had a shortage of people in my life, family most of all, who never fail to remind me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve done in my life. No one did this quite like my Aunt K. She talked about me to anyone who would listen from the day I was born. She told co-workers and friends about my first words, my first day of kindergarten, my college graduation, and my wedding day. She has always been one of my greatest supports.
I was reminded of all of this as I attended her memorial service this week. I was told by relatives and perfect strangers alike, once they realized who I was, “Your Aunt K was so proud of you.” It was such a strange thing to hear. Not because I didn’t know, I did. But it being reinforced by others each time was a reminder not that Aunt K was proud of me, but that she’s gone.
My Aunt K is gone, and I won’t get the chance again to hear her tell me how proud of me she is herself. She’s gone and I’m left feeling like there’s an incredible gap, an empty space in our family that can’t possibly be filled. I kept looking around at the memorial, at her brothers and sisters, her children and grandchildren, thinking something was missing, that she was missing. Her physical presence is absent and that absence is felt deeply. But I’ve realized her spirit, the part of her presence that has been left in each of her family, will be felt for a very long time.
Our family came together to grieve and her love was present. Friends and co-workers came, stood in line for hours, a testament to her dedication and spirit of giving. Even the atmosphere, Pavarotti quietly playing in the background giving an air of class but also a burst of joy, was indicative of the kind of person my aunt was.
She was always proud of me, like I said but that was the same for all of her family. She was quick to share in joy and even quicker to help ease pain. She was always ready with a laugh and a smile and not stingy with hugs. Aunt K cared deeply about those she loved and for her that meant doing right by them as much as possible. She could be a staunch supporter or gentle critic.
Aunt K wasn’t shy about offering her opinion, especially when she thought it would benefit you to hear it. There were several times in my adult life when she presented what she saw as a foolproof suggestion only for me to ignore said advice. Whether or not it worked out in my favor later, she never took it personally. For her it was about supporting me in doing what was best for me, whether that showed itself in commenting life advice on some of my first ever blog posts, or trying to convince me to teach English to kids overseas via Skype. It was all done with love.
Happy or hurting, she always met me wherever I was in life. She came with love and grace, always with grace. I never had to worry about messing up too much because rest assured she’d let me know if I did. And then she’d meet me wherever that was and love me even harder. I only realized recently what a gift that is and how many other people in my life are willing to offer it to me. But I think it’s time I try to do that for myself too. I think Aunt K would want that.