I have had a lifelong love affair with words…they whirl about me…sometimes liquid…sometimes vaporous; always connected deeply within. There is no question where this love affair started; this immeasurable gift that unlocks doors, breaks down barriers, brings structure, poetry and shape to this life I choose to lead. This affair germinated, took root and bloomed in the beginning of one of the darkest periods of my young years. Without this constant, I cannot imagine what choices I would have made that would have changed the road I have traveled. And yet there are times when I turn my back on this love, grow silent, pensive; refuse to use my words to expand and flourish. Today I honor this blessing by taking time to thank the person responsible for bringing the magic and power of words into my consciousness.
I was six, my mother lay in the hospital struggling to stay alive each day to battle Uterine Cancer; so that she could come home to her “babies”. My father worked in a factory, up at 3 am, travel an hour to work, work a ten hour shift and then straight to the hospital to be by his wife, his beloved’s, side. He spent every spare moment with her, his 26 year old heart breaking as he watched her wasting away. His mind torn with thoughts of what would happen to their little girls…their little family, once her vitality was no longer there to balance his. He thanked god everyday that he had his own sisters who, without a word, filled in the widening gap in his little girl’s lives. Each sister took turns taking my sister and I in or coming to our home and making sure we were fed, went to school and were loved.
My aunts were amazing, each one so different, each one beautiful, talented, loving, crazy, vivacious and a blessing. In the limited understanding of my six year old mind, I understood that mommy was away but I knew nothing of hospitals or death. I had only been allowed to wave to her from the parking lot at the hospital; children under 13 were not allowed to visit, even when it was a parent that was dying. So my sister and I were given to the loving hands of my aunts to be cared for and it fell on them to maintain a balance for us; it also fell on them to gently prepare us for the day when it had to be said “mommy has gone to heaven”.
I had one aunt who lived down in Westerly, it was a bit further away than my other aunts, so it was always a treat to be able to spend time with her. My aunt Barbara was an RN, incredibly intelligent, articulate, full of life, creative, loving and attentive. She was married and, though she was unable to have children of her own, she had been blessed with adopting one of my other aunt’s daughters. Her life revolved around her husband and child, but she always found room for me. I vividly recall what it was like when she would pick me up and take me to her home. I’d walk through the door and take in every inch of space…the colors…the sounds…the scents…it all brought such a sense of happiness to my young self. I wanted to stay there forever and never leave.
I remember that she didn’t just read to me; she would make it an outing. We’d go to the library or book store and she would take me through the entire place; she opened up my small world to the incredible wonders that lie beyond the cover. We’d take our treasures home and snuggle in to read stories and poetry; words that unlocked our minds, our imaginations and let us soar. She was also an amazingly gifted writer and I felt blessed to be one of the few people she would allow to read ALL of her breathtaking prose. I discovered a place I would forever turn to in both happy and sad moments; a place that would always be home…in words.
My aunt Barbara changed my world at a very critical time and continued to nourish my new found love with gifts of books that I treasure to this day. She blessed me with a love of poetry and all things Robert Frost, and introduced me to conscious thought with Leo Buscaglia. We spent hours combing the beach, collecting shells, exploring driftwood and bringing our bits and pieces home to create little works of driftwood art. She showed me how to cut out the bottom of a milk carton, fill it with dirt, and plant it with toothpick flowers; so that she could take it to my mother in the hospital.
Time was not kind to my aunt, her marriage fell apart, the divorce was brutal, her daughter ran away from home and she lost her nursing license because she was self medicating an undiagnosed Bi-Polar disorder. For a brief time it appeared things would be alright for her, she moved to California, took up tennis, connected with her sister, who lived out there, re-focused on her writing and found a sort of balance for her life. Unfortunately, her disorder slowly claimed more of her life and her beautiful mind. Her medications had horrible side effects and she became a walking ghost, her affect was flat and lifeless, she no longer spoke coherently and her writing became silent….her words were gone.
Aunt Barbara passed on a few years ago, but she has never been far from my mind or heart. Her legacy, her gift, her blessing of words lives on in me. It is a blessing that forever changed the course of one life and that is immeasurable. Every word I write, every word I speak, every word I learn and every word I pass on is my thank you to her; so I am mindful to try to choose those words well.
Namaste Aunt Barbara.