My great-aunt Donna is showing signs that she may not make it even a month. While she stayed up and talked with my dad for two hours last night, a simple bath wore her out so much everyone thought she could die at any moment. She is eating less than a bird does. There is a good chance I have seen her for the very last time.
I have a terrible memory that seems to get worse every year, so I'm going to write down some of the things I don't want to forget about my time with Donna. I don't have any big, adventurous stories of time spent with her. Even if I did, I wouldn't worry about forgetting something like that. Our time together was filled with normal, everyday events. Hours and hours and hours filled with little moments and mundane events are what strengthened our relationship. Unfortunately, it's the little things we tend to forget.
I don't want to forget.
I have to admit, it didn't cross my mind to write these things down until I saw that Stasha had chosen "10 Moments I Will Never Forget" for her Listicles this week. Couldn't be more perfect. Thank you, Stasha, for choosing this topic at just the right time.
1. When I was little, I used to spend the night with Donna and her husband every once in a while. I will never forget the first breakfast I had with them. I sat down to the biggest pancakes I had ever seen. They were as big as the plate. When my eyes bugged out, she said, "Well, Ralph has a big appetite. He needs big pancakes!" My shock and glee over pancakes that were simply larger than normal stuck with me, and I have made sure to mix up the size and shape of the pancakes I make for my kids. They get just as excited as I got when Donna put those gigantic pancakes in front of me.
2. Donna has always loved to play Scrabble, and she knows how to play. My grandma hated to play with her, partly because Donna knows all the legal two-letter words that no one else knows. When Grandma heard that I was going to play with Donna, she wished me luck, thinking I'd get whooped. Well, I did get whooped the first few times, even though she was gracious enough to keep a list of those two-letter words out on the table for me, as well as the Scrabble dictionary I had given to her on her 75th birthday. Eventually I managed to beat her. I've even done it more than once over the years. And yet, I still get a little thrill when I do.
3. I had always heard that Donna used a wringer-washer. I didn't believe it until the day I had to help her retrieve something from the basement. There it was. A for-real, in-life, still-used wringer washer. She'd still be using one to this day if she could have found a replacement when her old one finally broke.
4. Whenever Donna and I would get together for some Scrabble, she'd always make a simple meal for us first. I especially loved having breakfast with her. She knew how much I liked her coffee cake, so she would frequently make it for me. My only regret is that I never made her sit down and write the recipe down for me. All I know is that she used sour cream to make it. I will now have to try making every recipe I can find with sour cream to see if it's even close to hers.
5. My grandma and her sisters inherited a ridiculously high standard of clean from their mother. My grandma would tell me stories of staying up until 2 am cleaning the hardwood floors and ironing all of my dad's and his siblings' clothes. My grandma thinks this behavior was normal and would tell me all about how crazy clean her sister Donna was. I didn't believe it until the day Donna said something about putting socks on her ladder when she used it outside. And in the same visit I learned that she routinely scrubbed the garage floor on her hands and knees. I couldn't get over how nonchalantly she said it, like it is perfectly normal for people to scrub their floors on their hands and knees. I have yet to mention to either one of them that the clean streak ended with my generation. My sister and cousins and I may have high standards for cleanliness, but it ain't nowhere near their level. Not one of us would ever scrub the garage floor (with a mop or otherwise) or stay up past midnight to clean the floors inside the house.
6. My aunt and grandma are opinionated and spunky. It cracks me up when they get on a roll. One example I can give you occurred on a recent Thanksgiving. Members of our extended family have different ideas on what a "bad" word is. At one point in a conversation, my aunt said something was bullshit, and some awkwardness followed. My grandma and Donna immediately started defending the word. I couldn't hold the laughter in any longer when my aunt threw out, "It's a bull and it shits. Bullshit is not a cuss word!"
7. Aunt Donna is the keeper of the family scrapbook. She has every baby announcement ever sent to her. She has cut out all of the articles in which one of us has been named in the newspaper. She has wedding invites and graduation announcements and photos galore. It was always fun to go through the scrapbooks and hear the stories about both the family I have always known as well as the extended family I only know by name.
8. Donna is the only person I know who makes pizzelles. Every singe Thanksgiving and Christmas, she brings a tin of them to dinner.
9. One of the last times I went to visit with her, I took her to clean up her husband's grave site. Ralph was such a nice man, and I enjoyed hearing the stories of her wedding and her marriage all over again while we worked.
10. Lastly, if our predictions come true, I don't want to ever forget that last day I had with her. It was shocking to see her so sick, especially since I knew she had been her normal, healthy self just 5 days before, but it was wonderful to hear her regale us with stories from the hospital. She had us all laughing, despite the reality of what she was going through. And because of all those hours of simple, normal, completely ordinary games of Scrabble, there wasn't any awkwardness when she needed help with tasks she easily did on her own a short week ago. It didn't faze either one of us, for her to do the asking or for me to do the jumping in to help.
While talking with my aunt today, I told her how hard it was to leave Ohio. I want to be back there so badly. I just can't get my mind off of what is happening there. My aunt knew exactly what I meant. She was a wreck for the week that Donna was in the hospital, and was thrilled when I called her and told her she needed to get to Grandma's house. The moment she got to town, her anxiety disappeared. She is now helping and holding hands with Donna, and she is happy to do it.
This entire experience has completely reinforced the decisions Bryan and I have always made to get our butts back home whenever we can. It has never been an easy task to get there. We've drug babies and toddlers and teenagers those many hours, for almost every holiday, even when it was the last thing we wanted to do. We've loaded the van to bursting with pack-n-plays and diapers and snowsuits and presents and books too many times to count.
At times like this, I am so, so, so glad that we did.
And we'll keep on doing it as long as we have family to visit.
I do not want to come to the end of a loved one's life with regrets. I don't want to say, "I wish we would have..."
I want to be able to write a list of memories full of the little things we did together. Full of the stories that helped us become closer. Full of nice things we did for each other, just because we knew those things would make the other person happy.
Don't have regrets.
Do the things you don't want to do.
It will be worth it in the end.
Have a lovely day!