I remember her driving up to my house, unannounced, knocking at the door, expecting entrance. As an overly shy young wife, I didn't answer. I don't know why I was so afraid, but her boldness put me at arms length.
She and her husband never had any children, but as the "great" aunt, she mothered all of her nieces and nephews. I can hardly remember a time when she did not light up a room she entered.
I lost my Mom when I was still in my twenties. Not having any siblings, it was a time that left me feeling very much alone. None of my friends had lost parents. Yet here I was, young and newly married, feeling a deep sense of loss in my life.
Five months after my Mom passed away, this aunt lost her own 91 year old mother. Her loss drew us together like a magnet. Three years later, when her own husband died, she showed her resilience during her time of deep loss. The bond between us grew even more.
What started as visits and spending time together, grew into a deep loving relationship. She became the "adopted" mother to me, and when my children came along, she became their "adopted" grandmother. She came to every family event. Never failed to send birthday and anniversary cards. We enjoyed going to lunch or just out for ice cream. Shopping excursions became a fun day. At Christmas, my kids would decorate her whole house. For twenty five years, she was a fixture in our lives.
As her health began to fail, it became necessary to move her into an assisted living facility. My children and I helped her downsize from her home to a little apartment. Then came the day when she could no longer live alone. A caregiver was hired to tend to her needs.Visits became more difficult.
When a stoke finally left her with little strength, it broke my heart to see her struggle. Dementia started creeping in. But she never forgot us. Her eyes would light up and a smile would shine on her face whenever we came to visit.
Through all the years, the one thing that radiated within her, was her unconditional love. It wasn't just with our family, she loved and cared for everyone that came within her radar. She took meals to lonely widows, even when she was a widow herself. She visited anyone who was sick. She was a party girl, and loved being included with family and friends. Everyone loved her as much as she loved them. At times she would tell me she didn't think she was very pretty. But in my eyes, she was beautiful. Her smile alone was like a ray of sunshine.
In all the years we shared together, I only heard her speak once of a person who had hurt her. But she never with held her love.
We don't always seek out close friendships with people older than our peers. But my life has been richer for having experienced this kindred spirit. I learned so much from her and deeply miss our times together. She will be forever in my heart as an example of sharing unconditional love.