Goodbye, Mayberry.

Everyday Adventures

Aunt Bea has left the building.

No, not Francis Bavier, she passed from this mortal coil over a decade ago. *My* Great Aunt Beatrice Joyner, the last of that generation of family, the only of that group that I was ever really close to.

Not that it was a surprise, today at least. Last Friday, when Aunt Hazel called, we knew something was up because she *never* calls Mom at the office. Granted, I was expecting to hear that my aunt/cousin (it’s complicated) was in jail or that another cousin was dead because those things are totally expected (and not to be harsh but the one cousin? 3 kids all farmed out to various relatives–adopted out–and heaven only knows where *she* is, though Mom watches carefully any drug-lab busts in the area afraid she’ll see K as one of the arrested). So when the message was that they were calling in the family for Aunt Bea, wow, I was stunned.

It has been a while since I’ve seen her, age had finally caught up with her and she ended her craft-fair business (she sold jumper dresses with hand-made buttons of porcelain–later ceramic because the kiln wouldn’t get as hot–made by her son). I would help her at her booth during Springtime Tallahassee, back when the craft show portion was something to truly behold. Then there was the time in middle school where we all (me, mom, the boys, a couple aunts, an uncle, and several cousins) invaded her home in Winter Park for a weeklong Disney, etc. vacation. Because she lived in Central Florida (and even later when just her family was there and she’d moved back to Louisiana) she would travel to and fro quite a bit and stop by for a visit. There was just something about her that made me feel close to her. She was one of the few family members who came over for my first wedding.

Her contemporaries had either died when I was a little child or were so distant a relation that by the time cognizance hit I barely saw them at the occasional Thanksgiving or wedding or funeral.

And about funerals. When families become spread out like mine is, or when a certain section splinters off, weddings and funerals are the only time you really see anyone. So this isn’t the first time this has happened. Though my paternal grandfather died when I was about 3, my remaining grandparents passed away during high school and afterwards. But they weren’t even the first since my baby sister died when I was 5. Interestingly enough, my baby sister named Caroline died when I was five and my actual maternal grandmother, named Carolina, died when my *mom* was five. Obviously it would be a very. bad. idea. for anyone else in our line to name a child Caroline or any variation thereof. Brothers take note.

Anyway, with the exception of the royal tantrum I threw when the baby died (I remember walking home from the busstop that day after Kindergarten and seeing my Mom at the big main doors to Maw-Maw’s house that we never used. I ran up to her, so excited to see her as most of her time was spent with Caroline at the hospital–her four and a half months were not healthy ones–hugged her, and immediately asked if Caroline was home, too. She’d had another surgery that day and never woke from the anesthesia. I don’t remember what else happened that night, I’m sure there was dinner, maybe playing or television, maybe even homework, but I do remember my five year old body thrashing with righteous indignation as my poor little voice screamed for my little sister. I wanted her back. I didn’t maybe understand death. And my father tried to calm me or at least hold me still until I stopped.) me and death have this strange relationship. I never really get upset.

I mean, I think I’m just too practical. Okay, so-and-so is dead, well that’s very sad but there’s nothing I can really do about it, is there? Apparently the righteous indignation I had at five years faded to resigned acceptance. But I’d be fine… until the viewing. Then it would be this sudden rush of oh-my-god-someone-is-dead-and-that’s-their-body-and-they’re-not-really-in there. But it wouldn’t happen at first. I’d be there seeing everyone else sobbing or red-eyed after they’d recovered, and I’d feel this peer pressure to outwardly show emotion. Something I didn’t do. Something I didn’t feel most of the time. What good were tears, right? Then they would hit, just a little bit, just when the realization would hit and then I’d be acceptable and that would be it.

My step-grandma, Mom’s stepmom, was the last of the granparents to go, six years ago. I didn’t even like the woman all that much. She was difficult to love, not a warm person, and y’all hush about not saying anything bad about the dead. Death doesn’t saint someone who was a prick in life, okay? Deal. But Nell, she was the last one, so when I told my boss I was going to have to leave town (this is while I was a chef which is why I know for sure it was 2000) I got a little choked up. But that was it. I don’t even remember if I cried for her, or for the other people around who were completely losing it. 

So, why then, when I find out this lady who I hadn’t seen in years was in the hospital not expecting to last for long, did I absolutely lose it, at my desk, at work? Not only that, but for the remaining hour and a half of Friday afternoon I couldn’t keep it together. Bizarre. For me at least. See, y’all, I have a heart…

I managed to get over my out-of-emotional-body-experience and made it through the weekend with some malaise but no real outbursts. Monday dawned and there was no news. Tuesday, no news other than she was still hanging on. Mom wondered why, she knew she had to be getting tired. Mom had said her mental goodbyes a while back after one of Aunt Bea’s strokes. Somehow she failed to mention this to me as the only stroke I knew about was 10+ years ago and that actually helped her (seriously, she had been getting absent minded and so forth and this snapped her right back into perfection)! So Mom was prepared in a way for it. But she wondered, with all of Aunt Bea’s kids there, had anyone given Aunt Bea permission to rest.

Mom made the call from my office Tuesday morning. Basically for a modicum of privacy, but I should have really left the room. She asked Judy or whichever daughter it was to put the phone down by Aunt Bea’s ear and told her that we were thinking of her and that we loved her, but that it was okay, when she got tired, to let go. That we understood and that no one wanted her to suffer, so when she got tired, it was okay…

That was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to listen to. I lost it. At least until Mom turned to me and said, ‘You know, if she dies now they’ll all blame me.’ That’s my mom, laugh or cry… and we prefer laughter.

But tonight, about fifteen minutes ago, Mom called me to give me the news. Aunt Bea had let go, she’s at rest. I’m glad that she’s no longer suffering, and so is Mom, and strangely enough, no tears. I’ll probably be stone-eyed until we actually get back home. The arrangements will probably be for this weekend, so I suppose that was her gift to us. Maybe that was why she held on so long. She hated to be an imposition, so perhaps she wanted to time it so that people who were travelling to pay their last respects could do so on the weekend and not the week. I honestly wouldn’t put it past her.

Goodnight, Aunt Bea. We really do love you.

3 thoughts on “Goodbye, Mayberry.

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. It is difficult to watch the generations fade away. Travel safely, and find joy in her life and in her release from suffering.

  2. Sorry for your loss.
    I know how you feel about the crying.

    There are people I miss that I never cried for.

    ::hugs all the same::

  3. I completely understand the laughing/crying thing when it comes to funerals. And it seems so very absurd, doesn’t it, about the ‘hanging on until the weekend’ because that will be more convenient for the family. It makes me wonder what that says about our society.

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