My dear aunt, Sr. Angeline, whom I called “Aunt Angie”, died in March. I became close to this woman only after my parents died 10 years ago. She called one day and I was in tears as I spoke to her. From that point on, she adopted me and my children as if we were her own. When I was a child, living in Southern California, my aunts, all 4 of them in the same order, came out to vacation. Trapped in a car for weeks with my parents and at least two nuns (they always traveled with a companion), traveling up and down the coast of California was no picnic for a child, but that was my “vacation” almost every summer.
They were an odd lot. Sr. Emma: an excellent religious, but as warm as a bottle brush and flexible as titanium. It was wise to have few opinions, make no declarative statements, and keep a low profile.
Sr. Gilda was a pistol. She was 6 feet tall and very intelligent. She was secretary to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington DC for a time, and translated a well known book from Italian to English. She could be friendly at times, but generally I kept a wide berth from her as well.
Then there was Sr. Victoria: a gifted musician but a bit of a prima donna. She tended to play favorites among my siblings when she stayed with us and it was very clear that I was not one of them. She visited more often than the other aunts and my mother doted on her. We tended to be unpaid servants and accepted that role as both inevitable and unavoidable.
And then there was Sr. Angie, who had entered the convent at the age of 14 years old, not uncommon in those times. Significantly unlike the others, she was warm and kindly and I was not afraid of her.
She shared with me that when I was about 10 years old, as she was leaving to go back to the convent, I offered her my radio as a gift. We were never spoiled with material things, and my radio was a prized possession. To offer it was the ultimate sacrifice born of gratitude for the kind and warm person that she was.
I never saw her after I left home because this teaching order was on the East Coast and I was anywhere but, for most of my life.
My mother often spoke of her when I was a child, referring to her as the “sensitive one” and the one who “suffered the most.” Presumably, as with my other aunts, they called my mom to talk about their problems and concerns.
I always pictured her as ‘fragile.” As I came to know her late in life, she was indeed the “sensitive” one….and fragility sourced from the tenderest of hearts.
She sought to help others in every way that she could, but was seldom thanked or recognized for her kindness. We spoke often on the phone, and three times over those ten years, I took either train or plane to the East coast to spend additional time with her.
We planned a party for her 100th birthday. By that time, she had had several strokes, was in a wheelchair, and almost blind, but her mind was as sharp as a tack until the very end. I knew from the little that she said that she suffered greatly but believed implicitly in the value of suffering.
She ruminated over the state of the world, the lack of respect for the Eucharist and the faith, the seeming deterioration of the human spirit. I believe she shared things with me that she might not have said to the other nuns in the sister’s nursing home facility. She tried always to make converts of the nurses and helpers that cared for her and gave away countless rosaries, even the one I made for her. She wanted so much to die and go to heaven, and her biggest complaint was “….why am I still here?” I prayed for her relief from this world, but I admit that sometimes I prayed with ambivalence, because I didn’t want to face my own world without her.
She left strict instructions for her death. A simple Mass. No eulogy. No fuss.
ON March 23, 2017 she slipped silently, painlessly into God’s hands.
I was unable to attend the funeral but it seemed poetic justice that one so kind, so humble, so giving should not be without recognition since the totality of herself she gave away.
I’ve always said: “send flowers when people are alive, not dead.”
I defied my own rule and her intentions when I ordered a funeral spray the size of Rhode Island with a banner reading “Beloved Aunt.” She would have “tsked, tsked” something awful if she saw it.
I know she is still with me. I sense her presence but I miss talking to her….sharing the faith with her. My world is poorer without her. She was my “God with a face.”
And for the love of my Aunt Angie, shut up in church!