I was right. Today, Tamar, of Ladies Holiday, tells a story of not only quality, but also of heart.
Wednesday's Woman: Fostered by Example
By Tamar, Ladies Holiday
When Ladies Holiday was invited by Sperk* to have one of our bloggers write a Wednesday's Woman guest post, I jumped at the chance. What a wonderful opportunity to highlight one of the plethora of amazing women who have influenced my life. There are so many women to choose from: famous authors, wellness coaches and the like as well as everyday women such as my fellow Ladies Holiday team bloggers--who are among my very best friends, counted as sisters even--family members and more. I admire them all and they've each truly impacted my life in the most positive ways. Needless to say, even though I felt in my bones that I absolutely had to write this post, I was stumped as far as who to give the honor to in this way. They all deserved it. Then today (with two days to deadline) it came to me like a whisper. Aunt Linda. I cry as I even type her name.
My Aunt Linda, wasn't really my aunt at all. She was my mother's best friend since the age of 7, and as many best-friends-of-moms, she received the honorary title of Aunt as a way of recognizing that close connection not only to my mother but to my mother's children as well. When I was about 5-yrs-old, Aunt Linda had her first daughter (adding to her small family of two nearly grown sons), Jenny, became instantly my "cousin" or almost like my own little sister.
As you might have already guessed by my use of the past tense, Aunt Linda is no longer with us. A few months after seeing her at my wedding when I was 21-years-old, Aunt Linda was diagnosed with Leukemia, which she battled with heart and strength for 9 years before passing away. Although she's been gone for going on four years now...is that right? It seems so long and so recent all at once. Although she's gone, her memory and even more so her influence holds strong for me. Looking back, I didn't necessarily "know" her that well...I knew many of the stories from my mother's friendship with her through childhood, young adulthood, marriages and becoming mothers, not to mention a comical trip across the country in a broke down VW Bug with kids in tow. I knew her as well as any child can know an adult though through a child's eyes and a child's heart. Even that limited view of her could never discount what she did for me.
My childhood was tumultuous, but frequent visits with my mother and brothers to Aunt Linda's quaint, artsy, New England home were times of peace, creativity, comfort, and the knowing that one could express oneself fully without judgement. Educated and working in the field of Child Development, Aunt Linda had a wonderful way of knowing and understanding children. More than that, she seemed to have an intuitive knowing, separate from her training, that allowed her to get to the center of it all in a much more meaningful way. I have fond memories of being introduced to creativity and creative play through her generous offering of mixed media art supplies in her home, puppet shows using really cool puppets from her own childhood, and so much time exploring nature in her backyard.
When I was 3 or 4-years-old, I recall playing random notes on her piano while she babysat me. I started gently enough, but soon I was slamming on the keys loudly. Most people would have been upset, they would have made me stop and given me a lecture about respect for musical instruments. Instead, Aunt Linda joined me on the piano bench and said "That sounds like angry music. Sometimes it feels good to make angry music when we feel angry or scared inside, doesn't it?" I didn't respond, but even at that young age I was glad she didn't reprimand me, I was glad that instead she understood me. I was a really well-behaved kid and in many ways I didn't feel free to express any of my negative emotions at home, but she knew that I had a lot of reasons to feel angry or scared and she knew that she was giving me a gift by letting me express it in that small moment.
When I was 23 I had my first child. I was living farther away by then, but I tried to stay in contact as much as I could, especially since Aunt Linda's illness made it difficult for her to go very far. She was amazed by my daughter in the most seemingly insignificant ways. I brought my daughter to see her at about the age of 18-months or so. Aunt Linda brought out a paper and crayons and my little girl proceeded to do what I would have just called scribbles, but to my surprise Aunt Linda stopped our conversation, just as she would if she'd seen a bird out the window and said "Look at how determined she is! She is so focused on putting that crayon to paper and making something appear. She's so diligent She's amazing, look at her go!" She was in awe of little things about my daughter that I wouldn't have thought to revel in. She taught me to look deeper, to notice more, and to enjoy the little moments.
Around that same time in my life, my mother got into a terrible car accident and nearly died. While she lay in the hospital and I was busy visiting her, helping her wash her hair and advocating for her with the doctors and staff, not to mention running home to nurse my daughter and make dinner, and driving to the junk yard to clean my mother's belongings out of the totalled car amongst broken glass and bent metal--while I did all of this on my own, I had no support at home. My husband at the time couldn't deal with the stress and didn't know how to be there for me, he seemed almost annoyed by how this was all messing up his days. My step-father was no help either. It was all up to me. Aunt Linda was the only person who was truly there for me through the whole thing. She gave me daily phone support, often multiple times per day. Even as I complained about my frustration at all the people who weren't supporting me, she came through with advice to forgive, to understand their side of it, and to be strong. Being angry was allowable, but it wasn't serving me well, she helped me to let it go so that I could focus on more important matters. She was a godsend...again.
Some people have joked over the years that she was a bit too flakey, too touchy-feely, too sensitive, too over-protective of children and animals. These are unfair words. They are words used by those who either didn't understand, or couldn't appreciate, or perhaps were even jealous of who she was. These were words used to try and dampen who in my view she really was: she was compassion, and goodness, and light personified.
It was hard for my mother to hear me speak of her lifelong friend in this way, not because she didn't love her, but because in those moments she too realized how much I had been shaped by Aunt Linda. She felt sad that she herself hadn't been the main influence on who I was, she remarked later through tears that she felt I was more Linda than I was her. That I was Linda's child and not her own. "I always thought you were like me...but you're not, you're so much like her." I thought she should've been happy that I had been influenced by such an extraordinary woman, someone whom even she admired and loved so much, but this was also a symbol for her of the cracks in our mother-daughter relationship. I love my mother, but there are huge cracks, ravines even...treacherous, broken-planked rope bridges that cannot be crossed. I love her...but all I can say is: Thank God for my Aunt Linda. Thank God.
I've been through a lot in my life and many people have commented over the years "I can't believe you're so normal [whatever that means], I can't believe you're such a happy person." I've even had my therapist tell me that it is incredible that I am able to have such close relationships with people (I am very fortunate to have an intimate network of family-like friends, a support system I cherish) because many people who have gone through what I have aren't able to do that. This is not a pity party, nor is it a big pat on my own back about how fabulously resilient I am...it's been a process. However, Aunt Linda helped to create that mindset that has gotten me through. Her home was always a safe place for me, literally and figuratively. I learned their that I was loved, that I was worthwhile, and that the world is too beautiful and amazing for one to waste their energy on feeling bad about things that can't be changed. It is because of that foundation that I am so resilient, that I can look at the bright side, and that I can laugh through tears.
Last year I attended my sister-in-law Laura's ordination as a Reverend in the Unitarian Universalist church, she is another woman whom I could write a lengthy post about, outlining all the ways she moves me to be better. In her closing remarks at the ordination, Laura said "Remember, no matter how broken you feel, there is always a piece of you that is whole." I heard those words like a healing balm to the very core of who I was and what I'd recently been through, I broke down in tears of relief. Relief that I was still whole, that I was not fully broken. Aunt Linda taught me how to keep from breaking, and her love, even now that she's gone, keeps me whole.
* This post is dedicated not only to my Aunt Linda's memory, but to her beautiful daughter Jenny who was her pride and joy. Jenny embodies all of the goodness and light of her mother along with her own truly magical sparkle. I love you.
Wednesday's Woman is a weekly feature dedicated to spotlighting women who are role models for our daughters. . . and the world.
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