Everyone needs an Auntie Mame


My little brother Josh, Aunt Barbara, and a 15 year-old me at my cousin’s rehearsal dinner.

The sunset was really pretty tonight. Too pretty. I felt like when I got home from work, that there would be a phone call telling me why there was such a pretty sunset tonight. And there was.

My aunt died, and the phone call came about 10 minutes after I got home.

I had the chance to speak with her last week. She was incredibly lucid and intelligent, as always, but she knew it was the end. I don’t know if I want to be so aware of my dying when the time comes, but she was. We had a short conversation, which for us is about 10 minutes. Generally, if we’re on the phone, it’s about an hour each time. During that phone call, she told me that it sucks to be dying, and that she’s really worried about how her kids (my two cousins Brent and Staci) and my dad (her younger brother) would take the news once it happened.

(Actually, and this makes me smile through all of this, she said, “I’m worried how Brent and Staci and your brother will take it.” She meant her brother, my dad. During our conversations, she’d always slip up at least once in this department, saying something about “your brother” when she always meant HER brother. So it’s fitting that in our last conversation, she of course did it too.)

She told me that of all the family, I was the most like her. I said I took that as a high compliment, and she said it could also be a curse. And we laughed. She said she had a good life, got to go places all over the world, eat good food, and generally have a good time wherever she went. She told me that she loved me. And at the end of the conversation, said, “I hope this isn’t our last conversation, but if it is, I want you to know that I’m glad you’re my niece.”

We got to see her this summer. My family and I stopped by her house for a few days on our way home from the Maryland coast. Seeing her was really what we built this trip around. I wanted my kids to know her, and her to know them. I am so, so thankful that we did this. My grandmother used to say that we were such a small family, all we had were each other, and my aunt would go on to say that later, too. Small, but close. And I can’t even think how many times now I’ll go to call her and realize that she’s not there.

I spent a summer with her once. I was 16 and worked for her at one of her model homes. We had such a good time together. We went shopping and ate really awesome things and had wine (I was encouraged to learn), and stayed up late, and went to work about 11 a.m. During that time, she told me that she was my Auntie Mame. I didn’t know what that meant, and she explained it was a character in a book (and movie, and theater production) who was an eccentric, well-dressed aunt. I watched this movie later in life, and decided she was exactly right.

I’ll be writing her obituary later this week, reflecting on the important highlights of her life, but also how she just had fun living it. Her memorial is going to be at a Chinese restaurant, which is so her. I can just see her there, wearing something shiny and bright, working the room like it was a cotillion, and encouraging us all to just order what we want. It will be a party she’d be honored to have, and also, sad to have missed.

I leave you with a clip from Auntie Mame, hoping that somewhere in your life, you have what I had in my Aunt Barbara.

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