Today I make the trek to the other side of this sprawling metropolis in order to see one of the best orthopedic foot surgeons in the city. This journey is not new to me. Most of the good doctors are closer in town so I occasionally send the kids to the sitter so I can take care of some business
I knew that today’s appointment would finish close to lunchtime. I also knew that my thoughts would go to her.
If I had planned this trip last year, I would have made a phone call the night before. We would have made plans to have lunch after my appointment.
I would have driven the short distance from medical center to meet her at her favorite eating place. She was accustomed to eating in finer establishments. She knew which fork to use when. She had been a member of a country club. However, her favorite place was a little hole-in-the-wall barbecue place close to her house that had cheap eats.
Six months have passed since she left us. It was six months ago today that I arrived at her hospital room after she was gone. Six months ago since I kicked myself for having gone home the night before, thinking there was still time.
Six months since I felt those intense feelings of jealousy as she departed.
We were fortunate that we had time to say goodbye to her. She knew she was going home and called for her family to be around her. There was another patient next door to her whose life the hospital staff was desperately trying to save. He coded multiple times during the last day that we had with her. We saw his family in the waiting room as well and sympathized.
Our experience with Claudette was quite different. She knew she was going home and in fact decided to go home. Friends and family members that stopped by reminisced and joked with her.
Claudette was special to me for many reasons. She was my aunt, my father’s oldest sister and the matriarch of the family. She became a widow almost twenty years before she died. She lived alone in a big house on a hill.
I always knew that I would live with her someday. That opportunity came eight years ago when I returned from furlough to begin working as a flight attendant again. It seemed like an ideal situation. I was a single, starting my career over again and she was a widowed family member. I moved into her finished basement.
While I lived with her I began treatment with an orthodontist who was two minutes from the house.
During the time I lived with her, I met my husband. After living with her for two years, I married him.
I saw Claudette more frequently in the beginning of our marriage. However, as we kept moving further away and eventually had kids, visits became less frequent and more special when I would have appointments on her side of town.
One week before visiting the orthopedic surgeon, I had to have an emergency visit to my old orthodontist to fix a broken retainer. I had not been there since my treatment finished four years ago. After the appointment finished, I decided to go see what was happening with her house.
She and my uncle Jimmy had built their house in the late 1960s. By the time she passed earlier this year, the house had fallen into disrepair. I imagined that it would most likely be torn down and another built in its place. Such was the fate of many other houses in this aging, though beautiful suburban neighborhood.
I knew the house had been sold two months earlier. I made the short drive after leaving the orthodontist and turned onto her small cul-de-sac. I looked up the hill and saw the same structure I remembered. The house had been painted a different color. I saw a pick-up truck at the top of the driveway and several men working on the house.
It had not been torn down! For those of us who have great memories of that house, it was such a relief to see it renovated, not destroyed.
Aunt Claudette hosted Thanksgiving at her house for as long as I could remember. Even after most family members moved out of state, everyone came back to get together for this holiday. It was the one time of year that everyone was in one place. Claudette was a superb cook and prepared most of the feast herself every year from the turkey to the trimmings, planning days and even weeks in advance. (Living with her gave me some insight into this process).
I can’t write about her and Thanksgiving without mentioning her famous cornbread dressing. It was different than most typical dressing recipes. Hers was unusually moist and aromatic with fresh sage…
I walked to the top of the hill to see if I could take some pictures of the house. I ran into a few workers outside the house who directed me inside. I stood inside a few minutes waiting to talk to the “boss” and soon saw a man walk in the house. I told him who I was and what I was doing there. At first I thought he was a contractor but soon realized he was the new owner of the house. He would be moving in with his wife and daughter.
He showed me all over the house and talked of all the changes and improvements. There wasn’t much recognizable on the inside. The kitchen had been blown out to create an open space. The large utility room had been divided to make room for an office. The hall bath had been torn out and a beautiful granite shower installed in its place. Fresh paint was on the walls.
Except for the pink room.
Claudette had kept one bedroom in the house eternally pink. When she first designed the room, it had pink shag carpet. After she did some renovations to the house in the 1990s, the room was changed a bit, but still remained pink. It had pink walls and pink coverings for the four-poster bed that required a step stool to alight.
This room would belong to the new owner’s twelve year-old daughter. She wanted it kept pink. The only difference was a new chandelier she picked out for it.
You could have learned a lot about my aunt by seeing her house. Everything was blue and white (except the pink room). Her house was decorated everywhere with trinkets and china in these colors. She was the type who liked to fill every square inch of her house (and she did).
She had an outfit for every day of the year and always matched in color from head to toe. She always stood out in a crowd with her colorful hats and other accessories. She was definitely a girl who liked attention.
She would tell you herself she was a lousy housekeeper but an incredible cook. I always used to say that her leftovers were better than most people’s first tries.
She wasn’t always easy to get along with. She was good at speaking her mind and she did. Often.
But she loved me to pieces. She was one of three aunts I had on my dad’s side of the family. She was a one of a kind.
Claudette struggled to have good life quality in her later years. It became increasingly more difficult for her to walk and get around. The last year of her life she really struggled with her energy level.
We all worried about her because she lived alone. However, she wanted it that way. Well, she didn’t want to live alone, but she didn’t want to leave that house.
She told us on numerous occasions and in no uncertain terms that she would only leave that house feet first. I didn’t know how she could continue living alone. How do you tell someone they have to leave the home they had for 40 years?
One day the paramedics took her to the best ER not far from her house after she fell in her kitchen.
There she remained for several weeks battling illness. One day she called up a friend and informed her she would be gone soon and to come see her.
The family began to get phone calls. Drop what you’re doing and come see Claudette.
Everyone that could get there did. I told her that I was so thankful to the Lord for the time He gave me to live with her. Our relationship had grown a lot during that time. We had to iron out some things but in the end had a very solid, healthy relationship and respect for each other.
The passing of six months has helped ease some of the sting of grief. (Or was it jealousy?) She lived a long life. She is in heaven with our Father. It was difficult to be in that hospital room with her knowing where she would soon be going and knowing it was not time for me yet.
As I left the orthopedist’s office and headed over to her favorite barbecue place, I believed myself strong enough to face being in this part of town at lunchtime without meeting up with her. However, as I drove closer, I began to falter. I called up my dad on the off chance he was in town and available for lunch.
I wasn’t headed over to her favorite restaurant for a bite to eat. I knew it was closed. I learned during last week’s trip here that it was closed for renovation. I drove there to capture this picture.
As I drove past that sign, the irony hit me…
Not long after Claudette’s funeral, I listened to a sermon at church in which a particular scripture verse was mentioned:
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (NLT)
This verse gave me great comfort. The image I had in my soul was that God was ready to pour new wine into her, but needed new wineskins to do it.
Her house was also old and broken down. It needed new wineskins.
Even her favorite restaurant needed new wineskins.
It is not lost on me that so many things became new at the same time she did.
Six months earlier, following the funeral service at the church she had attended for decades, our family filed out and headed to another of the restaurants that she loved. It was a small family-owned place owned by a British woman. It had only been open for a few years, yet it had become one of her favorites. I called the restaurant owner ahead of time to make arrangements for our family to have a quiet lunch somewhere we could all be together.
As I talked to the woman about our situation, I mentioned my aunt’s name. It turns out they were neighbors and she was very sorry to hear that my aunt had passed. She then informed me that she would be closing her restaurant. She had family members that needed caring for so she would need to close in order to attend to them.
The day of the funeral was the last day the restaurant would be open. The world doesn’t stop spinning when a loved one dies but it sure doesn’t seem to spin the same way again.
So for the last time, all of my family gathered together in her little town for a meal. We marveled at her peace and determination in the end to choose to go and be with her Lord and Savior. We knew it wasn’t a copout.
She had fought the good fight. She had finished the race. She had kept the faith.