We said a final goodbye yesterday to my Aunt Ada. Though I cried (hard) as her casket moved past me, I think my tears were selfish ones for the great, gaping hole she leaves behind.
The service and gathering was truly a celebration of her essence – a life well lived and a family well loved.
She was my dad’s oldest sister and her life spanned 96 years. She lived through two world wars, the great Depression, Woodstock and the new millennium. Technology moved leaps and bounds during that time – from light bulbs to computers, telegraphs to party-line telephones to internet cell phones and much, much more.
She mourned the death of her parents and a step-dad, all her siblings, her husband and a grandson. She celebrated the marriages and partnerships and births of 17 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.
Through it all, she remained a family matriarch – almost unflappable. Her love and her faith were constant.
She was 6′ tall and ramrod straight. She had a strong Norwegian frame that would never be a size 4 – (none of us will; it’s who we are). She stood tall and proud and never, ever slumped or slouched. She wore her long hair in traditional Norwegian braids, wrapped around her head, until she was over 80 and her arms grew too tired to weave and wrap them each morning. I remember staying at their house over one weekend when I was probably 5 or so. I came out of the bedroom as she crossed their living room towards the kitchen. She was wearing a white cotton nightgown with a ruffled hem and her feet were bare. Her beautiful brown hair hung down past her bottom and swayed left and right as she walked. I was mesmerized. I had never seen Aunt Ada with her hair down. She assembled a pot of coffee, and I’m sure we talked, but all I remember is her hair. As the coffee began to brew, she moved into the bathroom off the kitchen and shut the door. When she emerged, her hair was neatly braided and wrapped around her head and she was dressed for the day.
That was her daily ritual. It gives me comfort to think about that.
I remember seeing Aunt Ada after she cut her hair short. I couldn’t help it – I cried. She took my hands and laughed a little. “Aw, Deb, it’s all right,” she said, drawing out the ‘all’ into a long whispery syllable. “It was time.” I knew she was right, but it made me sad to know she was getting older. I think it made me realize her mortality and I had to face the fact that she wouldn’t live forever. She was the last of my dad’s living siblings and I clung to that. She was a link to him here in this life. I knew she was right but I didn’t want to know it.
To the end, Aunt Ada’s skin was beautiful and almost unlined. Oh, she had a few wrinkles here and there, but her face had a soft and smooth texture of a woman less than half her age. She ate almonds every day to keep cancer away and was the only one of her siblings who didn’t succumb to that dreadful disease. I eat almonds every day, too. We’ll see how that goes-
Aunt Ada and her sister, my Aunt Iona, became quilters and both developed a strong passion for it. Aunt Ada founded a quilter’s club at our family’s home church and began making quilts for our family. Sisters and brothers got them as anniversary presents, we got them when we married; our children got them as they came into the family. We have a big family and we kept her very, very busy! She loved it. Until her fingers and eyes tired, each quilt was hand stitched. All are wonderful keepsakes. I have the quilt she made for my parents as well as mine and I think of her each time I see/use them.
When Aunt Ada’s casket was wheeled into the church it was draped with a quilt that had her name sewn into each square and the altar rails were covered with her treasures, too. It was comforting to have her presence there in such beauty.
There are countless stories and memories that I could tell you to give you a more complete sense of who she was, but perhaps the greatest testament to her life is the way she and the family faced her death. She died with dignity and class, as she had lived. She told all her children she was more than ready to go to heaven and ‘just didn’t know why it was taking God so long to take her’ (I said she was classy, I didn’t say she wasn’t a bit impatient sometimes!). She wanted to be with her husband again; her brothers and sisters; her family. When God took her home, we knew she was where she wanted to be and we were happy for her. So, after the service, there was laughter; babies and toddlers were passed from loving arms to loving arms; there were long, strong hugs. There were also some tears, but they were bittersweet and short-lived.
There was plenty of food, gallons and gallons of good, strong Norwegian coffee and krumkake.
And as we moved from table to table talking to everyone, I knew Aunt Ada would have loved seeing everyone together. She was there in spirit, to be sure. But not for very long. There was a cribbage game waiting in heaven.
The pastor read this Norse funeral poem toward the end of her service:
Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother.
Lo, there do I see my sisters
and my brothers.
I see the line of my people
back to the beginning. They do call to me to take my place.
Aunt Ada is there now, taking her place. We’ll all take our places some day, too. Meanwhile, I’ll miss her.