My aunt died yesterday. Two days after Easter, she was gone. Until 2 weeks ago, her death was not imminent and, in fact, I thought she would be with us for many years to come. But, God had a different plan. She suddenly fell ill in mid February and was hospitalized with pneumonia. Pneumonia is tough on anyone, but for our elderly it can lead to cascading, life-changing, life-threatening health crises. And while she did not die from pneumonia, it was the triggering event that led to her decline.
Unlike Easters of years past, this one was difficult. Surreal. Uncharted territory shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty. No time to take a moment to reflect on the weeks leading up to Easter, no time to attend church, no time to share a meal with family and friends or enjoy the thrill of an Easter egg hunt with our youngest family members. And, right at the height of my aunt’s dizzying, life-threatening decline, my husband Charlie, was hospitalized.
Thirteen days later, my husband is still in the hospital. I think he is coming home today, but every day for the last week, the doctors have said “maybe tomorrow” and tomorrow comes and he’s not released. While I don’t want to rush the issue, because I want him to receive the best care for as long as possible (which he is getting), the not knowing is difficult. He has been diagnosed with serious pulmonary issues stemming from a bout of childhood polio and learning to adjust to his “new normal” has been challenging for him.
I chose these photos I took of The Pieta sculpture at San Diego Mission de Acala for two reasons:
- The day Charlie and I went to San Diego Mission de Acala was a joyous day – a typical San Diego day filled with blue skies and sunshine. We ate lunch at a favorite San Diego seafood restaurant and then drove over the San Diego Mission de Acala for a visit. A wedding had just ended and photographers were taking the finishing shots before the wedding party and guests headed elsewhere for the reception.
- And, the only time I’ve seen Michelanglo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was on a trip with my aunt.
My aunt, my mother’s twin, was childless. We, her nieces and nephews, were an important part of her life. She loved us with a fierceness that no one understands unless you are a childless aunt of others (I am; I know). Growing up, we did not live close to her for most of my life; not even in the same state or country throughout much of our childhood. So visits were magical times filled with wonder and special trips to exciting places, plus she showered us with gifts.
When I was 18, she took me on a trip to Europe as a high school graduation present. I know! Who has an aunt like that? I did. A magical trip, she included my older cousin, Mike, who had graduated from high school the year before. It’s hard to pick one thing that I would designate a “highlight” from that trip because that trip had so many special moments. My father, an Air Force pilot, was stationed in Germany. So, in Germany we met up with him and celebrated my 18th birthday at a favorite restaurant of his in a German village.
And visiting Italy, Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel certainly rendered me speechless. Mile after mile of centuries old treasures, historical landmarks so breathtaking that this young, teenage girl came home wanting more…more art, beauty, travel and discovery.
Sculpted by Christopher Penn Slatoff, this magnificent life-sized Pieta at San Diego Mission de Acala is a tactile, stirring reminder of the overwhelming grief one feels at the loss of a loved one. Part of a collection of the 14 Stations of the Cross commissioned by the Via Dolorosa Society of South Pasadena, other stirring and visceral sculptures created by this amazing sculptor are located in various churches and missions around southern California.
As my aunt aged, and age-related dementia kicked in, our relationship became more difficult. A highly-educated and complicated woman with countless demons, many a time she lashed out in destructive, hurtful ways leaving a path of destruction so deep, many didn’t recover. And, relationships ended like unswept shards of broken glass scattered on a cold, concrete floor waiting for hapless victims to unwittingly step on them, gouging wounds deep in our soles (souls).
Remembering the aunt of my childhood, these times caught me off-guard and unprepared. Conflicting emotions colored my relationship with her and often times I wanted, desperately, to walk away. But, I always came back. It was those childhood memories that kept me vigilant and faithful.
And, I’d remember our trip to Europe, or trips to Yosemite, a trip to Western Canadian – happier times when her mind was sharp, her body strong and her heart filled with love.
With the help of a wonderful hospice team, I moved my aunt from the hospital back to her home in an assisted living facility. Wanting her final days to be in her home, surrounded by people she knew and cared for, my faith was strong that this was the right decision.
She’s with our maker now and our family members that have gone before her. And, at long last, she’s at peace.
Until Next Time,
(other posts about grief)