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In Memory Of Aunt Evelyn

alec vanderboom

It's been a quiet two weeks, with much reflection on my part, after the death of my 90 year old Aunt Evelyn. She had the death that we can all dream of: a huge 90th birthday party in June, she passed her yearly physical with flying colors in July, and then on an ordinary Sunday in August, a peaceful death. That Sunday morning, she drove herself to church, came home, told her sister that she felt tired and wanted to take a quick nap before their standing Sunday lunch date, then she quietly died in her sleep. St. Joseph should be thanked.

Her passing has left such a void. Aunt Evelyn was the last of the great spiritual women in my life who formed such a protective circle around me. Within the past five years, I've lost two grandmothers and three close great-aunts. Those of us in the John Paul II generation, lose so much when the elder generation die. Because our own parents are not firmly rooted in the faith, we get moved up too soon. There's no one above us anymore whose explicit job it is to "pray for the family." No more birthday cards with bible verses scratched below the signature. No more example of un-Peter like embarrassment about publicly state the faith.

"She passed the torch" and I'm trying to figure out how to pray better and more consistently in order to fill some huge empty shoes.

My aunt was a Mennonite, the simple Protestant anti-baptist faith similar to the Amish. I discovered that our Mennonite heritage goes back 350 years to Basel, Switzerland. (Which means that St. Francis de Sales was trying to reconvert my relatives.) Aunt Evelyn's father, Peter, was the 11th of 12 children. She was saved by Jesus at age 11, made it her mission to share the faith. She taught school for 37 years. She never married. Instead, she lived with her sister who was a single mother in the 1940s before the term even existed.

Here are some things I learned about her at her funeral. When asked what she missed most about being young, she thought for a moment and replied "Jumping." She loved to cruise in her 1995 car and put 15,000 miles per year on it without ever driving more than a 20 mile radius of Archbold, Ohio. 15,000 miles counted all of her visits to friends in nursing homes, trips to eat lunch with her sister, and visits to family members. On the day of her death, she took notes on her church bulletin. She wrote down phrases like "trust", "share the faith more." It caught me in the throat that she died before she could implement her ideas. Yet, now its my goal to be a note-taking Christian at age 90.

To get to her funeral, I had to drive 10 hours with a 4 year old, 2 year old, and nursing 10 week old. Everyone thought I was nuts. Here's why I felt so strongly about going to her funeral.

When my son, Francisco, died last year, I sent Aunt Evelyn a copy of his funeral program. She not only sent me a sympathy card, she sent copies of my letter to all the female cousins show who were meeting up with me for a family wedding. She mentioned her sorrow to me in person, as did most of my cousins. These were the only acknowledgements that I ever received about my miscarriage from my extended family.

Even more incredible, the day I was conversing with my aunt during the family wedding reception, my husband and I had just realized that baby Maria was on her way. We felt a lot of nervous emotions. Knowing that my aunt and cousins cared about us and were actively praying for us, helped us get through that fearful time.

My last letter to Aunt Evelyn was a sincere regret that I couldn't attend her 90th birthday party on the back of Maria's birth announcement. She sent Maria a congratulations card along with family photos. She had bought a birthday present for Maria, which she was going to mail me on a Monday. She died the day before she was planning on sending it. The oldest family member caring for the youngest family member- such a sweet moment in time.