We just found out that my Uncle Paul has leukemia. They sent him home saying there was nothing at this point that they could do and hospice was called. They gave him somewhere in the neighborhood of two weeks to live. That was a week ago. Uncle Paul is the husband of my Aunt Frankie who is one of my mother’s older sisters. Before I get into the subject of this post, let me give you a little history about my mother’s family.
My mother, Dorothy Louise(Barber) Hankins was born in Montgomery in 1929 accompanied by her twin sister Doris. Doris somehow got the nickname of Bunny and for the twenty-one or so years I knew her she was Aunt(pronounced like ain’t) Bunny. While there is nothing particularly unusual about that, consider that my mom and my Aunt Bunny were the youngest in their family. They followed siblings Myrtle, 1904, Alpha Iula, 1905, Wallace, 1907, Malvin, 1909, Maddie Lou, 1911, James, 1913, Ruth, 1914, Ruby Gladys(Aunt Pete), 1916, Alice, 1918, Jasper, 1920, John, 1921, Bill, 1924, and Sarah Francis(Aunt Frankie), 1926. For those of you keeping score at home, that gives my mom 14 siblings. Her parents, my grandparents, James and Viola, were born in 1878 and 1879 respectively. Needless to say I never had the opportunity to know either of them.
When I called my mom to get all of her brothers’ and sisters’ names she told me that Aunt Frankie had called at 4:30 this morning(Tuesday, March 23rd) to tell her that those attending to Uncle Paul had removed the various devices that have been helping keep Uncle Paul alive. As I write this, my mom sits and waits for the call that will bring the news that Uncle Paul is gone. She expects it. She has waited for calls like this before. She can’t be there with Aunt Frankie. Age, arthritis, and a broken leg several years ago have left her unable to walk and even a short trip to Montgomery would be a taxing one. I can’t help but think that she really wants to be there with her one living sister to comfort her as she waits for her husband to pass into eternity. I wonder what she is thinking as she waits.
You see, my mother, the baby of her family, has lived to see her father, mother, seven sisters, and six brothers die. There’s only mom and Aunt Frankie left and Aunt Frankie is about to lose her husband. The death of a loved one is never easy under any circumstances. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be endure the death of someone as close as a parent or a sibling one time, much less fifteen times. When her twin sister died, she said it was like losing half of herself. They had been together, literally, from the moment of conception. It broke her heart.
What I have wondered over the last few days as we have waited to hear the news of yet another death, is if my mom ever feels lonely. Not that there aren’t people around. She lives next door to one of my three sisters and all of her children live within ten or fifteen miles of her. She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren whom she adores and who adore her in return. And she still has my dad, too. It just seems as though there might be a kind of loneliness that goes along with being one of the last two survivors of one’s immediate family. It makes me feel lonely for her and I want to ask her if she feels that way. I don’t think I will, though. It would probably make matters worse since my emotions often tend to get the better of me. She probably wouldn’t tell me anyway. That’s how moms are. At least mine is that way. She always looks out for everyone else first.
My mother knows Christ and she knows that she’ll see the loved ones she has lost who also knew Him on the other side of this life, in Heaven. But for forty-one years she’s protected me, the baby of our family, from as much pain and heartache as she could while enduring much herself. Now that I’m older and I consider what she might be feeling as she faces the death of her brother-in-law who, by the way, has been married to her sister for over sixty years, I want to protect her. I don’t know what I could do, really, but I feel lonely for her. Maybe that’s all I can do. Maybe if she knows that, it’ll be enough. Maybe.