I want to tell you a story. It is a beautiful story about the joy of living a simple life. It is an inspiring story about the irrelevance of money. And it is a tragic story about a pandemic that has touched all too many of us and sadly, continues to do so each day.
In November 2019, my aunt Annie came to visit us. We had such a great time during her 3 week stay that I wrote a couple of posts about it: The Simple Life of Aunt Annie and Aunt Annie in Amish Country. From cooking dinner together to going garage sale shopping, we did all sorts of fun stuff while she was here, and when she left, Angie and I promised we’d go see her the following year so that we could help pick pecans (something she loved to do every fall).
2020 was a year! It was the year we all stayed home. The year people had to stop going to church, to school, to work, and to visit family. It was the year we couldn’t keep our promise. And it was the last year Aunt Annie would pick pecans.
On April 27th, in the early hours of the morning, I received a text from my cousin telling us that my aunt had passed away. It was a shock. I had just talked to her. I had just opened an Easter card that she sent to me and Angie. I had just ordered a copy of her birth certificate online so that we could help her apply for an apartment in a senior living complex by the beach. I had just sent her a letter promising that no matter what, pandemic or no, that we would come see her new apartment. I had just bought her a Mother’s Day card!
My aunt was 73 years young. She was by no means the picture of health, but she was a billboard for happiness. In all my life, I have never met anyone who had such a positive disposition. She never talked ill of anyone, no matter what the did. When someone stole from her, which happened often, she would simply say – “They needed it more than me”. She knew no disappointment, which is absolutely crazy in a world that finds new ways to disappoint us every day. She never owned anything other than the clothes she wore and the book she was reading. Yet, she gave her time, her money, and her heart in abundance.
At her funeral, her pastor said that the gates of Heaven burst wide open to welcome Annie home. I’m not a religious person but I really do want to believe that. I often have thought that if the choir of angels were to hold a draft, my aunt would surely be their number one pick. Imagining her holding up her wings like a quarterback holding up his new NFL jersey on draft day, makes me giggle inside, and I know she’d giggle too if I told her what I was thinking. Because that’s who she was – an angel here on Earth, a person so good that if there is a Heaven, she is definitely there (making biscuits, as her pastor joked).
Annie walked to church ever time the door was open. She cooked meals for the sick and for the families of those who had died. She brought more kids to Vacation Bible School in her life than the pastor said he could count. She raised money for mission trips and went on many herself. She had faith in God, faith in humankind, and a love for her friends and enemies alike.
Yes, she really was all that. And man, did she love me and Angie! Though she told us often, she never had to. It was as clear as the sun on a cloudless day. She liked to tease my mom that we were her daughters because we were so much like her. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a compliment!
My aunt was laid to rest in a lavender coffin. She was wearing a brand new lavender dress, probably one of only a few she’d ever worn in her life. The flowers that surrounded her all had bits of lavender. It was her favorite color. She was buried in the church cemetery, the church that she had attended for 73 years. And her life was celebrated in some way that day by every single person she knew.
My aunt died with no assets. She had no retirement saving, no cash reserves, no investments. She lived without concern for money. The small life insurance policy she bought years ago (at my mom’s insistence) was only for a few thousand dollars, not even enough to cover the coffin. When my uncle (her brother) went to the funeral home to make arrangements, he expected them to suggest cremation or talk about making other financial arrangements, but instead he was met with overwhelming kindness – not unlike the overwhelming kindness my aunt had shown others all of her life. The funeral director, a man that knew my aunt well, simply said, “We’ll make it work”.
Kindness begets kindness.
This person who came into the world with nothing, left just the same, but in her lifetime she spread more riches than any billionaire philanthropist could envision. I loved Annie will all my heart and I only hope that in my lifetime, I can be 1/10th the person she was.
Annie died from complications of Covid-19. No one in her family knew she had the virus. The week before her death, she went to the ER and was admitted to the hospital, where she went into cardiac arrest and was revived. Days later, she checked herself out against medical advice, went home, and passed away the next day. She had stuffed the papers from her hospital stay in the pocket of her favorite chair, along with 13 unopened bottles of water that her children had been giving her to drink. Her daughters found them when the ambulance arrived. Why she chose this path, we will never know. We can speculate that she knew she was dying and wanted to be home when it happened. We can also speculate other reasons and come up with a list of ways this could have, should have, or would have been prevented, if only.
As upset as we are by her death, I do know one thing – Annie wouldn’t have wanted us to be angry with one another. She wouldn’t have wanted us to blame anyone for what happened. She would have said, “Oh, it’s alright” and gone on about her business. So we have to do the same.
We’ll make it work, as the funeral director so aptly said. So, in honor of Aunt Annie, Angie and I took a trip to the Amish store yesterday, the store where this photo was taken just 18 months ago.
We had lunch there and bought some goodies, just like Annie would have done, and we talked about all of the good memories we had with her.
Rest in Peace, Annie! You will forever be missed!