garden statue of a girl
My Aunt Leah was rarely sick and always bounced back. Fell and broke her hip this past Christmas. Returned to work by February. And she was 74 years old.
Quiet, gentle, dignified, but tough as nails when it came to perseverance. Leah was steady. Without pause, always there, sure and steady.
A nurse by profession, she once took in my mother and I when we needed a place to go. Years later, when my mom was dying, Leah came to be with her youngest sibling for a week. She stood in my mom’s kitchen stirring soup made of carrots and celery she’d diced into tiny cubes.
Leah was the first person to French braid my hair. I’d come to visit that summer. I may have been 10, perhaps younger, so I don’t remember sitting still as she weaved the plaits tightly, an exercise she missed with her three sons. A picture remains to bear witness to those perfect braids.
Most of her life she lived in an old house with a rambling yard and a vegetable garden so big that I never did walk to the end of it. Her youngest son and I traversed that garden one evening as children. We navigated between squash and cucumbers and bushes of beans.
We climbed to the top of the compost pile. Then he said, “Snake!”
I never saw it. I bolted out of the garden all the way back to the house. Aunt Leah yelled from the yard for me to stop that ridiculous screaming.
Last summer, I returned with my husband and son to visit my Aunt Leah and Uncle Abe in their newer house. Their big garden was left behind, but the table was forever full. Salads and sauces and pasta to eat in the late afternoon.
She was the eldest of six children. The mother of three. Grandmother of six. Faithful wife of Abe for 53 years. She was unwavering in prayer for our family. The pages of her Bible were falling out from use.
It happened this spring, a cascade drawn out over weeks that started slowly and picked up speed as days rolled along. Leah had trouble breathing. Leah went to the emergency room. Leah developed pneumonia.
Leah was hospitalized. Leah was given oxygen. Leah was in critical care. Leah’s lungs sustained damage. Leah was on life support.
Then this past Tuesday, at 2:34 p.m., my Aunt Leah died. Surrounded by family here on earth, she was ushered into the arms of family there.
It’s been almost 16 years since my mother died. Sixteen years since my family last experienced death. Years filled with so many challenges, but such a long stretch without funerals.
I wonder what they’re talking about now. Has Leah told my mom she saw me last summer? That I have a son with hazel eyes? Are they sitting with my Grandma and Grandpa V?
Are they sipping cups of tea while Grandma has coffee? Is Grandpa wearing his fur coat? Are they gushing and waiting with ease for the rest of us to meet them at the table? For dinner to begin in the late afternoon?
Over the next few days, I’ll be off the grid. Look for me in real life as I travel alone to gather with the family that’s left. To pay tribute and grieve our loss of Leah, steady and true.
We’ll miss you, Aunt Leah. Wait for us there. Unwavering, wait for us.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV
This past Monday, we celebrated National Poetry Month here on the blog. The response to Poetry Slam Party has been intelligent, thoughtful, and moving. Ariel Price graced us with poem by John Donne in the comments. Seems fitting to end this week with another of Donne’s most excellent works.
Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Who is waiting for you in heaven? How do you grieve here on earth?