I'm not really sure how to begin. As I sit down to write this, my Aunt Dee Dee has been gone for about three hours, and I've finally wrapped my head around what she meant to me. I've decided that I'm not going to remember the years she spent in a hospital bed following her stroke. I'm going to edit all that right out of my mind, because I can. It's my mind, and those are my memories to let go of.
I'm going to remember her the way I want to remember her. I'm going to take another look at all of the ways she impacted my life, to show everyone how caring and loving people can be passed on to the next generation.
I love my aunt Linda, or "Dee Dee" as we all called her. I say "I Love", rather than "Loved", because you don't stop loving someone once they pass on. I love her as much as I know how, and much of what I know about loving and caring for people came from her. Now, I have all of these great memories of her, and I'm sacrificing all of those visits where I just sat next to her bed in the care facility to give all of the great memories I have with her space to expand in my mind and continue on.
That way, Dee Dee will never change. She will always be that person in my life that felt like a second mom, that person that showed me that a birthday cake didn't have to be just a birthday cake. If you cared enough, a birthday cake could be a car, or a superhero, or whatever you wanted it to be. I've tried to keep that magic going, by making my son's birthday cakes extra special. I'm sure you've all seen them on facebook. I post a lot of pictures. So yes, you all have her to thank for that.
She will always be the person that loved decorating hard boiled eggs for Easter, and helping the Easter Bunny hide them all over her house for us to find. Real eggs, that's what jumps out at me now from those memories, with the little shrink wrap sleeves, and whatever messy new decorating kit we wanted to try out that year. I know the last few years we used plastic eggs, because somewhere along the way we lost the time or energy to spend an afternoon decorating them, but I'm cutting those memories out. I'm substituting the real eggs (that I never ate) for the plastic ones that marked the time when we all had to start growing up.
In the summer, my brother Wayne and I would mow the lawns around her house, and if any of you have seen them, you know it's a several hour job, even when you drive as fast as we did. In my memories, she never gave us hell for racing the riding lawnmowers around the back yard, even though I'm sure she saw us doing it, and even though I'm sure she probably did ask us to be careful every once in a while. She didn't tell us we couldn't do it anymore when one of the lawnmowers was too roughed up to rise to the bell again, she just bought another lawnmower. In my mind, the grass was never greener than it was when we used to mow it around her house. She always overpaid us, and after a while we stopped trying to talk her out of it because she would never give in. She was the most stubborn person I've ever met. (Wayne, I'm pretty sure that's where Van gets it from. I hear it skips a generation or two.)
Every year we would go up to her house to do the "Christmas Cooking", but usually all we ever made were cookies and Chex Party mix. We had to bake cookies a few weeks before Christmas, because we made so many of them that we needed to give everyone enough time to eat them all. The flour got all over the place, falling off the sides of that square folding table from the hall that we had to use when the kitchen table wasn't big enough to contain it all. I remember my son Skyler helping for a couple of years, though I'm not sure if he was old enough to help much the last time we did it, or if that's the way my mind wants it to have happened. I don't really care if it's a memory that my mind has created, connecting two of my favorite people in this world. If writing fiction has taught me anything, it's that the stories that mean the most to us, that teach us the most about the kind of people we want to be, don't have to be entirely accurate.
See, it doesn't make those memories any less important or powerful to remember them the way you want to. So I'm editing them in my mind, remembering my son there with us, old enough to help in the making of the cookies, even thought the exact sequence of events may have been a little different.
I remember the year that she bought all the kids new wallets for Christmas, then forgot where she put them. I don't remember if she ever found them, but it doesn't matter. The laughs we had over it were worth more than any gift.
I remember setting up her ceramic Christmas Village, though I think we only ever found the ambition to do it once or twice. I remember helping her decorate, winding garland and ribbons all over the deck, and connecting so many of those free standing light up figures outside that in places the wiring required us to be creative.
I remember her holding her dogs, Buddy and Clyde, the way they always fought to make sure that they could both be in her arms at the same time. She hardly ever pushed them away, no matter how often they clawed her arms up trying to be the one that was a little closer to her. She loved them for who they were, claws and all.
That was who she was.
That is how she will always be in my memories of her, and that's a big part of why I try to be more like her. Almost nobody loves like that anymore. She loved her nieces and nephews more than most parents love their own kids nowadays. She always made sure I had enough to eat, no matter how many times I lied and told her that my mother didn't feed me. She always made sure the world was a little brighter, a little greener, and a little more fun. I choose to remember all of the fun we had, the lessons she taught me, and how for the years we all got to spend with her, she helped to teach us how good the world could be, if we just loved each other enough to enjoy it a little more.
That's how I will remember her. Skyler and I love you Dee Dee, and we'll always remember why.