Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Last Afternoon With My Aunt

Since my mother died last November, I have been trying to locate my Aunt Cathy.  She is my biological father's sister.  She is the one who kept in touch with me over the years.  The only one. She would come and visit for Christmas, and bring my little brother and I presents, even though he wasn't her blood relation.  She treated him just like her own.  She was that special lady who loved children, but could not have any of her own.  She worked tirelessly with the Special Olympics, before she got sick. She was the one who made an effort to keep in touch with me, even after my  bio-dad signed away his rights to me.  My mother remarried a wonderful man when I was four and a half, and he legally adopted me as his own, and changed my last name.  That man is my daddy.  He is the best father a girl could ever ask for.
   Now for a little history.  My mother met my Aunt when they were young ladies in a fraternal organization called The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls.  Later when my mother met and started dating her first husband(bio-dad), they already knew each other when introduced.  The man she was dating was Cathy's older brother. I am somewhat sketchy on the details, but he was in the Navy and had served in Vietnam.  They got married, and  she moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia with him, where I was born.  After I got married, my mother told me I was not a planned pregnancy.  She told me that she was excited, but my bio-dad was not.  She was a Lab Technician.  Nothing like your momma telling you that you were an oopsie!  So glad I was a well adjusted adult when she dropped that bombshell!  She worked up until the time I was born.  My bio-dad was in a bar on my birth-day. She left my bio-dad two weeks after I popped into the world.  Her dad, my PawPaw and Nana, her mother, came down to Virginia and moved us home to West Virginia.  My mother wanted a better life for me than what bio-dad could provide.  Alcoholism is a very ugly disease.  Vietnam was an ugly war. Being controlling, jealous, and obsessive were behaviors that my mother was not going to tolerate around her child. 
    My paternal great grandmother died the summer after I graduated high school.  Aunt Cathy was the one who called to let me know.  Aunt Cathy was the extent of family I had contact with on that side. I debated whether to go or not.  I was scared, and my mother told me it was my decision.  If I decided to go, then she would go with me.  I was scared, but I figured if she had the time to spend with me when I was little, then it was the least I could do, to go and pay my respects.  She is after all, in pictures with me in my baby book. I went to the funeral and met my half siblings.  They were all significantly younger than me, to the tune of six, eight, and ten years younger respectively.  So they were twelve, ten, and eight. My paternal grandmother always said that she would live long enough to take care of and bury her mother.  She died two weeks after burying her mother.  She was a severe diabetic as well.  So I had yet another funeral to attend. Great.  Like it wasn't stressful enough being around this group of strangers, whose blood coursed through my veins the first time! But it was not about me! Once again I saw my half siblings.  A cousin from bio-dad's brother, Mike, invited me to come to the State Fair down towards Beckley, West Virginia.  I was scared and did not go.  Her name was Angie.  This was the only contact I had with any of these people previously.   Besides the Grandmother that had just died that is.  She and my grandfather Dan visited up until I was four.
   The only attempts bio-dad had made to contact me were a drunken rambling demanding to speak to my mother, when I was twelve.  Until this point, I was blissfully wrapped up in my father's love and my idyllic childhood, and had forgotten that bio-dad existed.  I was in the seventh grade, and will never forget the words of that conversation.  They are forever imprinted on my brain. He was cruel.  This scared me and sealed the deal with my never wanting to contact him or have anything to do with him.  My mother was right, I was better off without him.  I did not know that this was around the time his second wife left him and their three children.  A little later I am told, he sobered up, and raised his three kids.  But more on that later.  The only other time I had contact with him was at my grandfather's wake.  He died when I was twenty four.  My biological sperm donor showed up with his youngest son.  He had cut his ponytail off.  I was talking with a friend, when I saw him come in the door.  I think I was scared and in shock.  I reverted to that scared twelve year old, and ran to tell my mother.  I wanted her to be prepared, and to protect me from having to speak to him. All I could squeak out was,"he cut his ponytail off!" She was as shocked as I was, and we looked through the adjacent back door to the chapel, and my Uncle Milton, mom's brother, was talking to him.  At the time I was in shock, and quite angry that he had the audacity to come to my mom's father's wake.  I was still naive.  He was, after all, my Pawpaw's former son in law.  So he chatted with my Uncle a little while, and then payed his respects.  Then he came to the alcove at the back of the chapel where we were all gathered.  He was brave enough to come in and speak.  My father was livid.  He had never laid eyes on bio-dad. While they were talking, I left my livid father at my mother's side and escaped to the bathroom.  There I remained with a close friend until they left.  I was shaking in my boots.  At that exact moment, I hoped he got a good look at what he missed out on.  The women in my family are beautiful, and I was no exception.  So those were the only two times that I had contact with bio-dad since I was little, until recently, and quite accidentally.
   When I got married, my Aunt Kathy came to the wedding shower.  She also came to the wedding, along with her husband, my Uncle David, and Grandpa Dan, her father.  After the wedding, I got busy with my career, my new step children, and my new husband.  I did not keep in touch.  When I learned I was pregnant, I called my Aunt and told her.  I invited her to the baby shower.  She did not make it. She was starting to go blind, had severe diabetes like her mother before her, and Alzheimer's had started.  I again got busy in my newly altered life as a brand new mommy.  I did think of her often.  A couple of months after my mother died prematurely, I began to wonder how my Aunt was.  I tried to call her, the number was disconnected.  I searched the obituaries.  Nothing.  Then I found an obituary for her husband from the previous year.  My Uncle David had died.  I then began my search for my three half siblings.  Bio-dad's other children.  So I could find out what had happened.  I thought I remembered four kids.  So I found four that were all connected through facebook, with the last name spelled correctly.  I sent messages to three of them.  I explained that I was looking for my aunt, included the details, and added an apology if I had contacted the wrong people.
   By that evening, I had three responses.  Whoa! So I opened the first message from the person I thought was my half sister.  It was her.  She was very forthcoming with details.  My Aunt Cathy was in a nursing home in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's.  We chatted for a while, and I learned a lot.  I learned that the kids knew of me, but that bio-dad never spoke of me.  They had met me only at the funerals, but she remembered me.  She seemed very nice, and funny.  We have kept in touch.
   Response number two came from someone who I assumed was the other brother.  I was wrong.  I had accidentally contacted bio-dad. Crap.  So I conversed with him in a facebook message about my Aunt and Uncle.  He shared the details of how my Uncle David died, and what was going on with my Aunt Cathy.  He also told me about my Grandpa Dan, and how he was in a different nursing home, also in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's.  OK.  I did it.  I faced my fears.  I actually talked to him.  I wasn't scared of him per se, I just never had the desire to contact him.  There was no big missing hole I needed to fill, etc.  I was just finally at the point where his existence no longer threatened my happiness. I had grown up.  But I needed to find my Aunt, so I did it.  So bio-dad was the sole caretaker for the Grandpa and Auntie, and handles all of their affairs.  He was polite during our short conversation.  He answered all of my questions.  I also had to inform him of my mother's death.  Sucks to be the bearer of bad news.  So that was that.
   The third response was from my half brother, who is in the Air Force stationed in Florida.  My Aunt had told me he had gotten married.  He was the little boy with bio-dad at my PawPaw's funeral. He was very nice, and warned me if I did go to visit her, to be aware that she probably wouldn't know who I was.   She was that far in her progression of the disease.  He also gave me phone numbers of people to contact, as well as the nursing home information.  Seemed like a very nice young man.  Then of course, I added two of my half siblings on Facebook.  Then the half brother's wife sent me a friend request.  She is so sweet!  She is just a doll!
   So I went to see my Aunt at the beginning of the summer.  I had hoped to meet my half sister, but her shift ended before I got to the nursing home where she works and my Aunt stays.
   I went to my Aunt's room, and she wasn't in there.  I asked a nurse, and they took me to where she was sitting by the large window getting some sun.  I walked right past her and didn't even recognize her. She had lost so very much weight, was recovering from a broken hip, and didn't look like herself.  I sat with her all afternoon, and chatted away as if nothing was wrong.  I took her roses and pictures of my family.  I painted her fingernails and held her hand all afternoon.  I shared my love for her, with her. She was able to get out a few intelligible sentences.  She had that sparkle in her eye most of the afternoon, that let me know she was still in there.  Thank goodness she was having a good day while I was there. She was glad I was a mother, had contacted bio-dad and my half siblings, and was sad to learn of my mother, her friend's, passing.  I told her stories of when she came to visit me when I was little, how dedicated she was to the special Olympics, and how much I appreciated her kindness and love towards me and my little brother.  I told her all about her wonderful life. I recalled stories of my mother and her youth group escapades, how I remembered her being at my wedding shower and how much it meant to me that she was there, and how she, her husband, and my bio-grandad came to my wedding.  I thanked her for the family tradition  that she passed down to me on my wedding shower day.  It was hard, but I had a great day just hanging out with my Aunt.  Unfortunately, it was the last afternoon  I ever got to spend with her.  My family has relocated to Kentucky, and I did not get a chance to visit with her again. I asked bio-dad to call me if anything happened to my Aunt.  Well that call came today.  She passed away yesterday around 12:45pm. I am saddened to hear of her passing, but glad she doesn't have to suffer anymore.  My visit with my Aunt taught me things about Alzheimer's Disease that I didn't know.  I knew it made you forgetful.  I did not know that it can affect your muscle control, your speech abilities, and such a wide host of other things outside of memory.  
   After my visit with my Aunt, I had an early sense of deja vu.  I knew I would be glad that we had this time together, when and if anything every happened to her.  The older I get, when I do things, I look forward and say to myself, "I will be really glad I did this down the road!"  I hate that.  I think it happens to us all as we get older and wiser.  It's like reverse deja vu.  You recognize how you will feel about things farther down the road.  I wish I didn't have that feeling tonight.  I wish I did not have a wake and funeral to attend next week.  But I am so very glad that I took the time, that I made the time, to spend one last afternoon with my special Aunt. 


  1. This is such a beautiful and heartfelt story of your life Ginger. Thank you so much for sharing it, the live here fit your aunt is felt in every word and emotion. ❤️

  2. Sorry so many spelling mistakes it's time for bed and I'm up late reading. 😉

  3. I'm so happy you managed to spend that one extra day with your aunt. What a blessing to have been loved by such a dedicated member of your family💗