On the Day of the Dead, I picked up the phone to call my great aunt. I’d known the day before that I was saying goodbye for the last time, but when the actual moment came, I flinched. So I’d promised I’d come see her one more time before I got on the plane.
After that visit to the hospice, Mom and I went to the funeral home to make arrangements. I wasn’t as much help as I wanted to be, torn between the duties of supportive adult daughter and mother of toddler. Still, we filled in the information for the obituary and handed over the photo I’d chosen so the cosmetologists would know what my aunt looked like. We winnowed the selection room’s offerings down to two coffins: a teal metal casket that looked like a music box and a beautiful mahogany box like the one that had held my brother three years earlier.
By the time Mom and I got my daughter back to the farm, Lenore’s nose was running. I wasn’t surprised she had gotten sick; so far we’re four for four when it comes to traveling and illnesses. I hated to think she’d been contagious when she hugged my frail great aunt goodbye at the hospice. We cancelled our trick or treating plans for the evening and put Lenore to bed early, hoping for the best.
The next day she had a full-blown cold. My eyes scratched with every blink and my head, as I packed, felt stuffed with raffia. I drank more tea than usual, hoping to fool my body, but by afternoon, it was clear I wasn’t in any condition to set foot in the hospice.
Aunt Hilda’s voice sounded like the ivory taffeta of my wedding dress, a shade so subtle it was nearly colorless. That afternoon, she’d had ladies visiting from her retirement community. They’d worn her out. She and I chatted briefly of inconsequential things: the weather, the colors of the leaves, the news she’d seen on TV. Neither of us wanted to let the other go.
I thanked her again for the time she’d spent with me, identifying people in the old family photos. So much is going to be lost with her. She’s the only person left who remembers my mother as a girl, or who knew my grandfather as an adult, the only person I know who rode in a victory parade at the end of World War I and remembers the flu epidemic in 1918 and survived the Depression. She’s been like a grandmother to me.
She said, “I hope we’ll see each other again,” but I knew it wouldn’t be in this life.
I had to say the words. If I didn’t, I knew I’d regret it forever. I wondered that I’d never said them before. “I love you,” I whispered into the phone.
“I love you too, dear,” she said. I heard a smile in her voice. “Goodbye.”
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports