Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Lifetime on a Few Tables

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the day at Apple Tree Auction Center where we watched the contents of my 99 year old aunt's life be unloaded onto plastic tables. My aunt Elsie recently moved from an assisted living apartment into a nursing home room thus limiting even more her ability to store her lifelong collection of treasures. The two rented storage sheds were emptied and everything was taken to the auction center in Newark.

Personally, I was glad to know that she is still living so that when leaving the center, it wasn't as if we were saying our last goodbyes to her, just her things. But it goes without saying that we were saying goodbye to a life of adventure, travel, excitement, unique friendships and beautiful things. I would describe her life now as sterile, interrupted, quiet and attended. And that is quite a contrast to the independent, genteel (sometimes quite self-centered), world-traveling lady that we all knew as little as 5 years ago.

This was the lady that, for better or worse, would drive herself across the country at 90! She also rode down into the Grand Canyon with our family ON A MULE (over 8 hours just to get in) when she was 74 years old! She had no children so my mom was her daughter and when she needed a little extra help getting around, taking care of things, my mom encouraged her to move from Arizona to Lancaster-about 15 years ago. Since then, I think she has lived in 5 different places but did not stop driving until she had an accident about 3 1/2 years ago. She really is amazing.

It's hard to talk to her now. She can hardly hear anything but has no luck with hearing aids. She sleeps most of the day and night. But it never ceases to amaze me that when I visit with one of the kids, she tries to sit up a little taller, speak a little louder and for a few minutes (until she gets completely exhausted) there is the lady I remember from my childhood. Certainly we are all more than the sum of "things" left behind after we are gone. And although the "things" that others keep will remind them of us, I think we all hope that the value of what we left behind is not totaled on the receipts of the auction house; but rather calculated on eternal gifts of faith, love and hope spread over a lifetime of relationships with people. If that's true, my Great-Great Aunt Elsie's life is priceless.

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