Aunt Bernadine

aunt-bernadineMy great aunt is dying.  She is 92.

Aunt Bernadine is the last of my relatives in her generation, and she is not my blood relative.  She married my Nana’s brother, Uncle Ned.  My family was very close with Uncle Ned – brunch every Sunday, always holidays and birthdays together – but Aunt Bernadine wasn’t always around.  She was a bit of a recluse.  For as much as Uncle Ned was normal, Aunt Bernadine was a little on the kooky side.

Aunt Bernadine didn’t dress flamboyantly, she wasn’t into the arts or something cool like pagan rituals.  She never dispensed interesting or thoughtful advice, and she wasn’t the person I went to when I didn’t know how to talk to my parents.  Rather, she was kind of self-focused and not real loving, even to her only daughter.  My great aunt came from a family history of mental illness so even if she didn’t have a large dose of that, her family influenced how she interacted with others.  Certainly not an influence one might prefer.

But I loved her.  Yes, she was not to great to my Nana, but I came along well after all the fighting happened.  I saw this quirky, nice lady who smiled when I said hello to her and would listen to me when I had some story to tell (which was often).  I loved my Uncle Ned so I naturally loved my Aunt Bernadine.  When you’re 7, that’s just how it works.  Even as I got older and learned that she wasn’t the sweet old lady I thought she was, I didn’t care much.  Water under the bridge to me.

Once, when I was at college, Aunt Bernadine mailed me some poems she wrote.  I was touched that she thought to send them to me.  Aunt Bernadine seemed to know me as me – a writer, an artist – not just as one of her great-nieces.  I don’t know where those poems are, but I don’t think I threw them away.  In the event that I find them, they will certainly be framed.

As the last of the truly Elder generation, I worked hard for my daughter to meet Aunt Bernadine.  With L’s dancing and running around the lobby of the Assisted Living center, Aunt Bernadine would laugh or smile as best she could.  I doubt L will remember my aunt, and that makes me sad.  Sometimes I regret that I didn’t have children earlier so that my kids could enjoy as much of my family as possible (of course, who the father would have been I have no idea!).  My family, although strewn out all over the U.S., is the focus of my life.  I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

Yes, Aunt Bernadine lived a long life.  Yes, her quality of life in the past 6 months or so hasn’t been so good.  Yes, everyone dies.  But I am taking this time (a day, maybe two) to just be really sad as we wait for her to die.  Kooky or not, Aunt Bernadine is a part of my family, and I love her.

**UPDATE**  After writing this post, I remembered that Aunt Bernadine used to say things to us that sounded like non-sequiturs but apparently were completely logical to her since what she said often made her chuckle.  I also remembered that she would end conversations with “Toodle-loo!”  We thought that was so silly.  But it made her unique.

Aunt Bernadine died tonight, March 18, around 9:30pm EST.   Toodle-loo, Aunt Bernadine.  Toodle-loo.


9 responses to “Aunt Bernadine

  1. I’m so sorry you’re having to grieve over your great-aunt. I really know how it feels so if you want to talk or you want to be quiet, I’m here and I understand. I hope you find the poems 🙂

    • Thanks, Amy. I appreciate how you have “been here” for me, even though you live so far away. I hope I find those poems, too!

  2. Wow, I was pretty close with my great aunt & uncle too, and your post made think about how much I miss them & love them still. Your in all of our thoughts. 🙂 And if you do find the poems, maybe you could post one.

  3. What a loving tribute you have writen about your great-aunt. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    BTW, I feel the same way you do about having children earlier so that my kids could have known some of my amazing relatives.

    • I’m glad to know I am not the only who holds those irrational feelings of regret. I think it reflects how much I loved my family who is now gone and how much I love my daughter. I wish I could share her with everyone, dead or not!

  4. “My family, although strewn out all over the U.S., is the focus of my life. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.”

    You have evolved into a different phase of life, which is why you now feel this way. I also wished I had children much earlier than at this point in my life of now trying. Our elders come from a different life, when things were much simpler compared to the way we live now.

    I always wanted to have kids to experience being in the kitchen with my grandmothers cooking and baking, and helping to cut cloth to make quilts. All of the things that I said I never wanted to do or be.

    I think your Aunt’s sharing of her letters was her own way of saying I love you, as she saw the real you – what’s dear to your heart. Her way of reciprocating your love and kindness to her.

    So go ahead and take this time to reflect and enjoy your memories, and hopefully those memories make you smile more than feel sad.

    Praying for you and your family.

    • B. – You are so loving. Thanks for this note. I could see you with your family in the kitchen and cutting the cloth. Very touching.

      I wish my L could have been with her Great Nana, watching the cookies bake. Instead, she’ll do with me and I will do it with her children (hopefully).

  5. As Meredith said, “what a loving tribute you have written about your Great Aunt.” I don ‘t know if you are experiencing this or not but when my last Great Aunt died I mourned so deeply for the loss of that generation. Her passing for me brought up the loss of both sets of grandparents, of the loss of my father-in-law (who LOVED you!), and of my many great Aunts and Uncles that had been with me well into my 20s and 30s. So mourn away, sweet sister. Your life has made a fundamental shift into the next generation. Love to you and your family as you honor her life and make this transition.

    • You always remind me of what is best in life. I can’t believe you that your FIL thought that much of me after only one meeting, but he sure made me feel special on that one day. I think he needed to not feel old and I needed to not feel alone (without J).

      Because of how I feel about missing my elders, my life mission is for my daughter to be close to her extended family so she can feel that closeness with her generation, her aunts and uncles and create lasting relationships for generations beyond. As my friend, you give me great inspiration with how you are dedicated to the same for your daughter.