Aunts Who Raised Me

“The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” –Andy Rooney

January 27, 2015 Tell me about an elder you learned something from and what you learned.

She was my favorite aunt – Rose, my mother’s sister. I loved her so much. As  a young girl,  I wished that  I lived in her household, instead of ours

One Sunday when I’d returned to Connecticut after five years working in the Northern Plains, I was asked to help out at a church where I had done an internship, and I went.  It was a good forty-five minutes from where I lived.

The people were the same; many remembered me though nearly a decade had passed since I’d been there. After the service,  the co-pastor asked if I’d be willing to come twice a month and help. I said I’d think about it and get back to him.

On the way home, I stopped to have a cup of coffee with Aunt Rose, whose house of memories was on the way.  After my absence of nearly a decade, we had picked up right where we left off when I moved out to California after graduate school. We sat at her kitchen table with our cups of steaming coffee, catching up with the “small talk.” Then I told her about the request from the pastor.

She shouted to me, “Don’t you dare!”

I was shocked because Aunt Rose had never ever yelled at me.

I said, “Aunt Rose, why are you yelling?”

And she quickly collected herself, and said softly, “Because I used to do that. I used to say YES to everyone.” She reminded me that I had shared that I’d been feeling very stressed, and here I was considering adding to that stress.

Aunt Rose had known me all my life. She was my mother’s sister, but they had grown apart and they didn’t talk to one another. She had had a son, my cousin Andy, who died of cancer. She took care of him throughout those final two years. Our family never used the word cancer. Of course, I knew. And after a while, I mustered the courage to ask her if we could talk about Andy.  And we did. And I think it helped us both to heal a bit. Of course, she had taken care of her son. Andy died.

Years later, when Grandma was ailing, Aunt Rose took care of her.  Both women suffered from severe back problems, so the stress on my aunt of moving Grandma and even helping her into and out of the tub, took their toll.  Grandma died.

Through this time, when Uncle Pete was more and more frequently in the hospital because of his heart condition, of course she took care of him. Uncle Pete died.

On that Sunday in her kitchen, Rose told me that of course she had taken care of her son, and her mother, and her husband. But she didn’t need to say yes when someone asked her to do something for the PTA  since she was at home. She could say “No, I can’t!”  without feeling bad… When  someone from the church called and reminded her that she and Pete hadn’t been at church and asked where were they? She said calmly and surely: “My husband has a heart condition. We cannot be at Mass.”

She really woke my up! I was still saying “Yes,” this in spite of that bestseller, “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.”  Even when I  managed to say no, I still brooded about it. Finally, I took some time and decided to have a (flexible) policy about requests, and believe me, requests come to me all the time. I am still working on this, but most of the time, I am able to make decisions more sensibly. Of course, in emergencies, I help out where I can..

For the most part, I try not to say yes if going someplace where lead to my feeling worse than when I was asked. I am not on automatic. I need to take care of myself ….only then, can I help others in a healthy way.

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