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Monday, May 29, 2017

A Tribute to My Aunt on This Memorial Day

My Aunt Carmen in her favorite shade of pink.
My Dad had one sibling, a sister, my aunt. My earliest memories include her and my uncle Ted.

In fact, some of my best memories are of our visits to Aunt Carmen and Uncle Ted. Visiting them in Rexburg, Idaho, was our favorite outing and/or vacation.

The reasons are simple. She fed us well for one. There was always good food in her home. Some food we had never tasted before, or else my Mom would not allow us to have. These options were always available when we visited Aunt Carmen.

She always planned such fun things for us to do when we were there. Things like swimming in a pool where the water was fed from the hot springs were favorites. We would also visit the sand dunes and go huckleberrying in the mountains. She made the huckleberries into huckleberry pie.This was considered a family delicacy.

Just being at her home was fun. Her husband, my uncle Ted, was a gentle and loving giant of a man. He was as dear to us as she was. She loved animals and this was reflected in how she cared for her cats and dogs. Our cousins were wonderful additions as well. The difference in our age ranges didn't matter.

But, things changed. She didn't change, the circumstances did.

My father died in 1974. He passed away from injuries suffered in an industrial accident. I was 12. My oldest sibling was 13 and my youngest just 6 1/2 months old. Suddenly, our world changed. My father's kind personality was no longer a moderating influence in our home.

Other influences shaped our outlook. We started to laugh at Aunt Carmen and her eccentricities. My Father would never have allowed this, or approved of us making fun of her. 

But, he was gone. Lampooning her for fun, in absentia, or when she telephoned us became common and even expected. Our caustic behavior went unchallenged and, in fact, encouraged in our home environment.

We had fun abusing her amongst ourselves. This nastiness magnified her personality quirks and resulted in our altering our behavior towards her.

Despite this vicious treatment, she continued to call us, invite us to visit and so forth. She always remembered us on our birthdays and Christmas with generous and thoughtful gifts.

The problem was that she had so little contact with us that she didn't really know what we would like or dislike. She did the best she could, though. She continued to send us gifts long after we failed to remember her, our uncle, or our cousins on their birthdays and holidays.

Despite the contempt and dislike we all exhibited towards her, she continued to remember us and to attend our important life events, like graduation, missionary farewells, missionary welcome homes and weddings. She was often markedly snubbed by us and had to sit by herself, ignored and overlooked.

She always appreciated getting phone calls from us and made many attempts to call us, although the courtesy was rarely returned. After obtaining a cell phone, she occasionally received free cell phone minutes. She often phoned us, even though some of us, like myself, were scattered across the country. We gave her little to no encouragement in maintaining contact with her, but she never stopped trying. 

Our caustic behavior towards her was implanted into a new generation as my siblings had children. In fact, it is still a favorite family pastime.

In hindsight, I'm appalled at what we did to her and what she had to endure because of us. I certainly played my part. My feelings are that of extreme remorse, especially for all the damage and wasted years I spent ignoring her.

What finally changed? Me.

Our home movies, I hadn't had access to in years, were converted into DVD's. I could view them on television and on my computer. My epiphany came from watching Aunt Carmen and Uncle Ted playing with us as children during some of our visits.

In their eyes I can see the same emotions I feel towards my own nieces and nephews. This realization melted me. She loved me. It was that simple. She always loved me, no matter how I treated or abused her. She never gave up on me, despite all the cause I gave to her.

After some serious thought and prayer, I contacted her and we began to rebuild our relationship. I encouraged her to call me and I called her when I could. For the last few years of her life, our relationship was close.

She had been in poor health her whole life. She contracted cancer more than once. In fact, on three different occasions, she was given about three weeks to live. Somehow, she lived on, uncomfortable and in much pain.

Unfortunately, my Mother and my siblings never changed their behavior toward her. I asked Aunt Carmen why she never gave up on us. She continued to reach out to us in whatever way she could. She said we are family and she felt obligated. She loved my Dad, her brother, and she loved us, her nieces and nephews.

She said she got occasional phone calls from my Mother, but they were never pleasant. Having listened to my Mother's actual calls to her, as well as her description of her calls to her, I know they were nothing more than, "Why aren't you dead, yet?" phone calls.

I told Aunt Carmen she didn't have to return them or call any of us herself anymore. I gave her permission to forego these painful encounters. We agreed that when she died, I would be the one to inform my family, and I was.

Over the years, our treatment had caused a sort of bewildered desperation in her. She didn't know what we were doing to her behind her back. How could she? This caused her bewilderment.

The desperation came from trying to do all the things she could to maintain relationships with us, but without having any success at doing so. Despite her best efforts, relationships with us slipped through her fingers. She did not know why or how.

I now understand these feelings of bewildered desperation. I feel the same desperation that she did in trying to build and maintain relationships with my own nieces and nephews.

However, I'm not bewildered. I know where this treatment came from. I also know from what, and from who, it comes from now. The same behaviors that caused me to treat my Aunt Carmen the way I did is poisoning my own nieces and nephews against me.

In my deepest heart of hearts, I feel it is a sort of twisted justice to be subjected to now what I did to my own aunt. I deserve to be treated like my nieces and nephews treat me. This is the way we were all trained to treat aunts. I'm now an aunt. I can't do any more about it than my Aunt Carmen could.

In the end, she did triumph, unbeknownst to my Mother or my siblings.

Despite everything I had done to her and how I had treated her, she took me back. All my past treatment and contempt towards her was forgotten. She forgave me for everything I did or participated in that hurt her. I didn't even have to ask her to. She bore no grudge and exacted no revenge.

Her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ was strong. She never wavered in it, despite all her trials, especially her health. She died with her faith intact and she bore a strong witness of Jesus Christ. I hope that I can say the same, when my end comes.

On this day of memory and memorials, I can unequivocally state that my Aunt Carmen was a kinder, and more Christlike, person than any of us...than of me...