While there, we visited my 90-year-old Aunt Betty, who lives alone and is one of those bubbly, optimistic, never overbearing older women who still has a sense of humor and a love that seems incredible and admirable to say the least. Coming in at just under 4 feet and 11 inches, my Aunt Betty is someone I've always looked up to but I guess I never really understood or could explain why. Now though, I think I can.
In the last night we were there, my family and I drove over to her house and sat and talked with her for awhile, listening to her talk and marveling at her grace and animated expressions 90 years in the making. 30 years ago Betty lost her husband Harold, who was the kind of husband that everyone remembers to be nearly flawless. Apparently, he loved my mother very much and although Betty and Harold never had any kids, they lived next door to my mother while she grew up and would be the kind of spoling aunt and uncle every person wants to be. But anyways, we're there on Thursday night...talking away and chatting and I just kept on thinking of how lonely my Aunt Betty is and I could see it in her eyes as she didn't want us to leave but said that we should leave if we were gonna get enough sleep for the drive home the next day. This is how Betty is: she's totally aware of how she is and so feels the need to always tell people how she doesn't want to be a burden (b/c she really doesn't) and how they really shouldn't try to go through special means to help her out or anything. To put it simply, she doesn't want to inconvenience anyone. She can't drive...so she has to wait for my grandparents to call her and see if she need groceries or if she has enough nerve, she call when she needs to get a haircut or something similar. It really is a sad thing and she knows it is too. She kept talking how she hated being in all the day and how though she knew it wasn't right of her to expect people to be taking her everywhere, yet, you could sense she just wasn't happy there...alone. The TV is on all the time, just so she has a little bit of noise and so she can hear some other human voices but she rarely watches it. Most of the time she reads, and looks at pictures, and remembers her family (she's the only surviving child of 6 children---they're all gone and all of her friends are gone too). And so, when we finally got up to leave that night, we all were hugging her and saying goodbye and thinking on the inside of how guilty we felt leaving her here alone for another 3 months, 5 months, etc. My sister Blakeley planted the last hug on my Aunt Betty and offered up the "Betty, you know we love you don't you?" and Betty looked up at her and responded back immediately, "Oh honey...I needed that."
Aunt Betty started crying, yet, it wasn't the kind of happy crying that you like to see people in the middle of. It was the fear-infested kind. The kind that gives off just how really scared you are at what lies around the corner and how you don't want to be alone anymore. As Betty's tears ran down her face, she pulled her tiny hands up to her mouth and held it as if she was holding her breath. Blakeley began to cry, my mom did and then within seconds, we all were standing on her porch...crying quietly not knowing really what to say--but really, feeling the same exact thing inside. I looked at my mom and she looked at me and we both felt a burden as heavy as heaven crash down on us. How could we leave her here like this? Humans weren't made to live in isolation? Why does Betty have to live out the rest of her life in this kind of place? Sure, it's wonderful b/c she has her own things and can get around fine and can manage her own little tiny home...but what about people? What about the human contact?
There's an image that I now know will be etched into my mind and heart forever because of this scene that night outside of Aunt Betty's. The image is Betty, standing behind her front glass door, holding her hands over her mouth, crying and waving at us goodbye and shaking her head and closing her eyes and repeating the process again and again. She is my icon for strength I think now...one that gives into vulnerability, embraces joy and pain, and yet still has the audacity and wisdom and courage to love and be loved in return. I'm going to miss her so much I know and one day when I am in a place where she is in or that stage of life I think I'll look back to this night and remember my little frail Aunt Betty, standing in the doorway...and expressing the kind of love I'm still trying to learn more about.