A year ago, the cherry trees were in full bloom. We wheeled my Aunt Betty into her front bedroom to see her tree, at her request. Her question to us was, “Is my tree blooming yet?” She was enamored with the petals which were frosted in all hues of pink. The ancient trunk reached toward the windows as if giving her a wave. The light green leaves of early spring were unfurling, and if the wind blew just right, they danced, cheering for the blossoms as they threw themselves into the breeze with abandon. Betty smiled and said, “It was worth it. It was all worth it.” It was a moment. It was her last rally before she passed. There was such joy on her face to see that tree in full bloom, we decided to have cherry blossoms at the memorial service in all the floral arrangements. I miss Betty. There is a hole in the family. Today especially.
Since that season a year ago, I have watched my mom’s mind decline. We knew she was having issues, but when Betty got sick and we were all at the hospital with her, it became clear it was worse than we had realized to that point. As we were handling Betty’s estate and her affects, Dad decided it was time to move with Mom to a retirement community. The stress of the last year has taken its toll, and her memory is suffering. She still knows who we all are, but decision making and short-term memory are fading. The twinkle in her eyes transforms into a blank stare much of the time and communication is difficult.
I have been contemplating this contrast of sisters as the one-year anniversary of Betty’s passing has approached. Betty was a renaissance woman, educated in a time when women were expected to stay home. She stood against injustice by standing up with her African American friends during the Civil Rights Movement. She taught children of all colors how to fall in love with music.
Mom has taken the more traditional route. She married the love of her life young, before she finished college. She has birthed and raised three children, but nurtured so many more through her hospitality. Her take on civil rights back in the 60s was to hire African Americans, in a time when it was scandalous to have them in your ‘white’ home among your children. To pay them well and to treat them as part of your family was unheard of. Her commitment to her family and her God is remarkable to this day, even with the fading.
Both strong women, raised by my strong grandmother. Both have had an impact on the women of the next generation, and the next. It may look different, but underneath is the same care for others. The same compassion. The same love. Different sides of the same coin…sisters.