A few weeks ago my husband’s great Aunt Frances turned 90. We were not able to be there with her to celebrate this milestone because we were in California celebrating my husband’s grandmother’s 96th birthday. I wish we could have been in two places at once so that we could celebrate both women, but it just wasn’t possible. So, we celebrated with Aunt Frances a week after she entered into her next decade.
My husband, my son, my mother-in-law, who is Aunt Frances’ niece, and I traveled the two hours it took to get to her home in Phoenix. Our visit would turn out to be one of the best things any of us had experienced in a very long time.
Aunt Frances has always been a wonderful person to know. In the twenty years that I have known her, she has always been full of warmth, wisdom, a wonderful sense of humor, and dead pan wit. My husband possesses many of these traits, so I can see where he gets them. We saw many of these wonderful traits still alive and thriving in beautiful Aunt Frances, even as she enters her ninth decade.
There’s another thing I saw in Aunt Frances this time that I didn’t know was there, but has been there for while. It was loneliness, or what appeared to be loneliness. It wasn’t the kind of loneliness you experience from living alone, Aunt Frances has a husband who has been with her for quite a few years. But, even though they live in the same house and share many of the same things, they don’t share deep thoughts and feelings with each other. Aunt Frances is the first to tell you that he doesn’t want to talk about things that have to do with deep, heartfelt feelings. Our arrival into her home that day, as she would later tell us, was like a breath of fresh air for her. She clung to every word we said, and she shared many of her thoughts, feelings, and much of her wisdom with us. She was hungry for connection; deep soul satisfying connection, and that is the gift we brought her that day as we celebrated her life with her.
We sat and talked for hours about how we feel about life and what we have learned so far on our journeys. We talked about our hopes and dreams and if we were happy, ….and if we weren’t, then why. She wanted to know all of these things. She asked, point blank, as she looked deep into our eyes, “Are you happy?” “What is your dream for yourself….and are you doing your dream?”. She wanted to tell us what she, at 90, now knew about life, and we listened with all of our hearts as she talked. We wanted to listen, because we wanted to know how she had discovered what she knew about living.
As the evening wound down and we kissed her goodnight and drove back home, we were all in awe as we talked about our visit with this quiet, fun, witty, amazingly wise woman. She is not an old 90 year old woman. She is an ageless being who inhabits a body and lives life with as much love as she can feel. And, I , along with my family, have been forever changed after that simple afternoon and evening sitting in Aunt Frances’ home and examining our hearts with her.
As I thought about my visit the next day, I couldn’t help but feel the loneliness that Aunt Frances seemed to have. She told us the only person she can really open her heart up to on a regular basis is her son, who lives two states away. He calls her daily and they talk, but she wants more people who will do the same. She was amazed that all of us could talk so openly and deeply with each other about our feelings and about how we view life. She wants a community of people who will do that with her. It left a big imprint on my heart, her aching desire for more connection. It’s really what we all want. Loneliness isn’t about living alone. It’s about wanting to connect and feel appreciated for who we are. Even though Aunt Frances doesn’t live alone and she is surrounded by a community of retired people who share a common bond, it isn’t the soul deepening bond of sharing our hopes and dreams with someone who cares about us.
I’ve experienced this kind of loneliness before and it feels worse than anything I have ever felt, and I hope I never have to feel it again. And, because I have felt this kind of separation before, I could recognize what Aunt Frances was experiencing. I was also able to see that there is a quality that this teaching of loneliness has brought into her life, a quality that only people who have been through life’s toughest experiences can have. That beautiful quality that she possesses is a deep appreciation for life and the people living it. It is a quality we rarely see.
I have only known appreciation for something after I have been stripped of the very thing I now so deeply appreciate. This is true for Aunt Frances. Her years of feeling alone in her world now make her want to appreciate each person she connects to, each thing they have to say, each moment that she gets to sit beside you and hold your hand and look into your eyes and really hear what you are saying because she really wants to feel that connection. She drinks you in with such appreciation that you feel validated and good about who you are.
This level of appreciation is her beauty. It is why none of us wanted to leave that night. We could have sat for days with her and felt her love for us. Her loneliness eventually has become her greatest gift and I am so happy I was there to experience a small portion of the appreciation and love she has to offer all of us.
Often times our truest gift to life is the very thing we don’t like the most about what we are experiencing. In Aunt Frances’ case, her years of desiring a deep bond eventually created in her an even deeper bond to her own spirit and it is her big embracing spirit that we saw and felt when we visited her that day. I will never forget the look of love in her eyes as we shared our hearts with each other. And, even though she talked about wanting more connection, I didn’t really feel her loneliness as much as I felt her enormous appreciation. She has cracked the code of life. The code of embracing all that IS and finding beauty in it.
I sat with a master that day, and I feel so much appreciation for the gift this life master offered me. Thank you, Dear Aunt Frances, for the gift of deepening my appreciation for all that IS in life.