A couple of weeks after Gabriel had died, The Aunts took me out to lunch.
The Aunts are my father’s four sisters: Aunt K, Aunt M, Aunt N, and Aunt J (that’s oldest to youngest as well). Although all cut from the same cloth, they are all incredibly different as well. And that lunch? It was just what they knew to do for their terribly wounded niece.
We went to Piper’s Pub, and it was a wonderful time, as wonderful a time as I could have in those weeks and months after I lost Gabriel. As I had been pregnant until very recently, two drought beers from Pipers had me quite squiffy.
After our meal, three of the aunts had to go, but Aunt K and I went to another local eatery and watering hole. This time for a few cigarettes. (At one time, all The Aunts smoked. Most of The Uncles, too come to think of it. They have all quit a number of times over the years. I don’t think any of them currently smoke.)
Aunt K — she is something else. (A sentiment that could be applied to any of my family members really. We run the gamut.)
Aunt K had a daughter, her second, who was severely handicapped and had Down’s syndrome. Her name was Maureen. She died at 2 years of age.
My family — especially of course Aunt K — always remembers her. We remember all our lost.
While we were having another beverage and a couple of smokes on that summer’s day five years ago (going on six), Aunt K told me a couple of things.
The first was a little story from her life. She had just gotten married to Uncle P (they were married for 48 years) and she was working full-time; he was a Pittsburgh police officer (later a detective). One day, she told me, someone brought sweets in for ‘the girls’ (she used that term, I swear) to have on their coffee break. One of the other ladies with whom Aunt K worked went ga-ga over a chocolate eclair.
“Oh, K,” she said to my aunt, “this is better than sex.”
To which my aunt replied, “I don’t think you’re doing it right.”
This hysterical bon mot was followed with more serious talk. When Aunt K said, “I know exactly what you are going through” to me that day, she wasn’t kidding. She had loved and lost a baby, too. She went on to have three more after Maureen, for a total of five (gotta love the Irish and Italian Catholics, man).
I’m paraphrasing somewhat here, but this is true in spirit — if not word for word — to our conversation.
“Look, honey,” she said, her hand over my hand. “You are hurting terribly right now. And you go on hurting. You grieve.
“Your husband is hurting now, too, though. And you need to go through this together. And you have to let him grieve in his own way.
“Uncle P, he never talked about Maureen after she died. When I found out I was pregnant again, I panicked. ‘What if this baby is like Maureen?’ I remember asking him. And he just said, ‘It’s not. And you can’t think that way.'”
She patted my hand some more, probably sipped from her drink, offered me another cigarette.
“This will make you and DearDR stronger, you watch. I know it made P and I closer. Even though we never talked about it with each other. And DearDR’s a good man.”
My Uncle P was a good man too. We buried him yesterday. And I thought a lot about that conversation that Aunt K and I had. I hope that I can offer the smallest consolation to her — in being in attendance yesterday, in recalling this conversation, in grieving with her and her children and her grandchildren and all the rest of us who loved Uncle P.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
— The Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, chapter 4, verse 7