Aunt Bea – written for my son

My children don’t read most of what I write, but they know other people do. They only read stories about themselves and facebook status updates where I tell that Super Man is in the building as a way of sharing that my son’s been in the dress up box and is currently darting through the house, a long red cape flapping behind him or similar. They’ve been helping me write a middle grade chapter book and love the idea that their mom puts life into words. Recently my boys have been offering me writing topics.
At bed time each night, we take turns answering, “What did you enjoy about today?” For a while my younger son would start his turn by wrapping small arms around my shoulders, planting a kiss on my cheek and exclaiming, “I enjoy hugging mommy!” Lately, he scans the memory of recent hours and gives clear impressions of gratitude, unafraid of exposing that he doesn’t quite understand the question, because he does now.
Last night he asked me (again) to write about his friend.
Her name is Bea. Bea lived in his cousins’ house. Once upon a time she was my brother-in-law’s nanny, but in her last few years alive, he took care of her. When she first came to live with his family, she was bedridden and seemingly in her last months. Soon though, through the love of my sweet, soft spoken little niece, she began to recover.
In time, Bea took on doing laundry for the whole family and tending a large garden in the back yard. Whenever we visited my in-laws, my son made straight for her room, knocked, and loved to hear her familiar, raspy “Who is that?!” He opens the door, stands in front of her, his face beaming.
“Is that you?!” She asks him.
He smiles and nods.
“Did you grow again?”
More smiles and nods.
“Well, what you been doin’?”
He never answers directly, usually inquiring about the contents of her room instead.
“How come you have to sit in that rolling chair?”
“Cause my old legs is shot!”
“Why does your bed have those bars?”
“Come out here with me. I want to show you my peas. They’re growin’ good this year. The rabbits ate up all my lettuce. How am I gonna get um? What you think?”
He never answered. He liked to watch her face, light sparking in her brown eyes, how she moved. He liked when she asked him questions. He liked listening to her watch him grow to be a big boy.
When Bea and I talked too much about gardens and bunnies, he would run off to find his cousins.
We have four years of memories with Bea answering her bedroom door, the familiar love scene playing out.
(I read this whole post aloud to my boys, my little guy beside me. When I got to the part about Bea dying he asked me to stop, his lower lip turned down. After a minute he was okay with me going on. I asked him if I should leave the sad part in. He said no. Because his older brother asked me to keep it, my little guy suggested we share the dying story on a different page. Since OS doesn’t offer that option, pretend you are now turning to page two.)
Shortly before my younger son’s sixth birthday, Bea’s body gave up. I believe too, she was ready to go.
Visiting her in a nursing home, pale green tiled walls and crooked people in wheel chairs all around, was not the same. That year, we had a large garden, our first. We brought Bea pictures of jalapeno plants, cucumber vines and tomato stalks, all fenced in to keep small animals out. She was unable to sit up and walk around. She did ask the hoped for questions, even smiled, but her unhappiness with a less than ideal staff was palpable.
We were relieved when Bea came home. I was grateful she could die in her bed, surrounded by people who love her dearly. My son held onto hope. He pictured knocking on her door, hearing her animated response, him walking in, finding his friend sitting in her walker, smiling because he was there.
In August 2009, we spent much of two days at my in-law’s place, saying goodbye. What follows is an edited version of what I wrote at the time.
We spent the day at Bea’s house. Much of the afternoon and evening I sat with her. She is dying. Yesterday she moved to new a stage of letting go. I so hoped she would open her eyes, smile. My younger son especially wanted her to sit up and ask him how he is so the two of them could have a conversation that is sweet to witness, sweeter even to experience. He is sad.
“I don’t ever want Bea’s body to die” he says and his eyes are filling with tears.
My older son wrote her a story in anticipation of our visit. Though he wasn’t sure how to share his gift, we told him to sit close, read loud, that she would hear and know he was near. Bless his heart, he shared the whole story. In response, she barely moaned. We told him that meant “Thank you.”
While my sons enjoyed time with their cousins, I held Bea’s hand, caressed her forehead, looked for any indication she could hear me. I told her about the court case, our garden(I checked it before we left so I could give an accurate report), the children’s theater company we are starting, and a funny story about kids and chocolate cake. From my place at her bedside, I could see most of the yard. I pictured Bea staring out her window, watching children skip and play, keeping an eye on her garden, watching seasons change.
Seasons change.
Her CNA and I spent most of the afternoon talking, a beautiful, powerful conversation about love and God, kids, how growing up is harder than we anticipated, homelessness and drug addiction. There seemed nothing more important than to hand each other our hearts. Sitting beside my dying friend drew reality into focus. There was only Bea’s still body, her room with its signs of daily life missing as she had been away too long, her dear assistant, fading light as a summer day eased into evening, the sound of children playing beyond her door and a slow dance of gentle thoughts in my mind.
I did not want to leave. We were there seven hours. When it was almost time to get in the van, my boys and I went in to see her alone. They said “Hi” and “See you later Bea.” They were unsure how to talk to someone who can only hear, whose eyes can not open, who seems asleep but is merely waiting, listening to two worlds. They love Bea so they tried, in their soft timid voices. I gave her a hug, a kiss on her forehead, whispered, “I love you Bea” by her right ear. I looked at her one last time. The smallest smile formed on her lips.
Every few weeks, usually at bed time, my younger son tells me again, always with tears welling up in his eyes, “I wish Bea didn’t die. I want to see her again.”
She never minded his not answering questions. She just asked another one or offered him a glowing compliment. She smiled when he came into her room. She looked at him. She saw him. She loved him back.
When my son prays for Bea, he sings the same prayer he offers every night.
“I am O my God but a tiny seed, which Thou hast sown in the soil of Thy love and caused to spring forth by the hands of Thy bounty.” – Abdu’l-Baha
By the end all our hands are high in the air, reaching for the sky. If she were with us those nights, her hands would be up too and she would surely laugh, asking if he was going to be a rose or a big oak tree.

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