A few weeks ago, mom called me and told me Aunt Dorothy died. A few days later, I was the first person who walked into her condo. Overwhelmed by waves of grief and memory. Her routine. Her things. Pictures of my grandfather. Hand-painted dishes. My grandmother's blue couch. The same one I sat on as a boy. The old organ. House-shoes knitted by my grandmother. Discoveries. Each of them triggering precious memory. Beautiful and horrible little joys. An old letter my grandmother wrote to Dorothy, talking about me when I was a four-year old boy. She wrote,
"John asked me, Grandmother, will you live long enough to see my children?"
And then, "I never know how to respond to such things."
A picture magnet of my twin daughters on her refrigerator. Two unicorn birthday cards for my then four-year daughters, sitting on her kitchen counter. My grandmother wrote to Dorothy about me when I was four - now her great granddaughters were four. The answer to my four-year old question is no. She never met Rosie and Dassi. But her daughter Dorothy did. Life is circular. Memory is now.
I still have Dorothy's last text message on my phone. Asking for my mailing address to send those unicorn birthday cards to my girls. She didn't know it would be her last text. Neither did I.
Our last conversation in Fayetteville at my nephews graduation. Dorothy always wanted to talk about family and lineage. We ate our last breakfast there.. When we were finished, I told my girls to hug Aunt Dorothy and "tell her that you love her."
"We love you Aunt Dorothy," they smiled and sang together.
I love you too, she said.
That was the last time we saw her.
I guess we never know when we will have breakfast with someone for the last time. Or read their last text or birthday card. Or say I love you for the last time.
What would I have done differently if I knew?
For starters, I know I would say "I love you" more. Much more. Listen slow. Ask more about my grandmother and grandfather. She loved to tell stories about them. I would be more grateful and open and patient. Celebrated her better. Called her on every holiday and stayed on the phone too long. I would ask question and not hang up until she was done talking. I would have visited her more. Helped her clean her house and do her errands for her. Take more pictures. Go to church with her. Brought flowers. Purple ones, her favorite color was purple.
For years, she lived among the Amish people and loved them. And they loved her. A kind family of Amish came to help us clean her house. I barely knew them, but the Amish knew so much about me. I found out Dorothy talked about me to them often. She was proud of me.
Dorothy loved her church. Singing in the choir. Her friends. A lot of friends came over and brought food to us. They all spoke well of her and how much they missed her. How kind and smart she was. Her bright and sassy soul.
We hear phrases. Time is short. Make the best of today. Live like there is no tomorrow. But they usually don't register with me until a disturbance. A death. A loss. A magnificent defeat. Maybe this is one of Dorothy's parting gifts to me.
How do I live for today? How do I love now? How can I be less concerned about things like Facebook and politics, and popularity and more concerned about the people who matter. I'm not really sure. But I know to love now. Love is my most rebellious act. When tragedy and pain and death are near - they plead with me to fear, to worry, to hate. I refuse. I will not listen to their shrill voices or heed their angry tones. I will not give into fear. I will love now.
Love is my greatest legacy. Love is what I leave behind. Love now.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
- excerpt and blog title from The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.