The twins are in deep conversation. Just the two of them. My aunt is at the left, my mother on the right. My aunt is complaining about her life, her health, and familial challenges. My mother is comforting her.
My aunt is wearing the gold bracelet and the stylish manicure. My mother is wearing the keys to her apartment at the retirement home where she presently resides. My aunt is wearing lots of make-up, eyebrows drawn high above her sunglasses. My mother’s hair is flying in every direction. My aunt’s blouse reflects the bright afternoon sunshine. My mother’s has a smear of potato salad across her chest.
It’s their 86th birthday. We are in my sister’s and her partner’s backyard. Family and friends are gathering. Presents and envelopes collect on a table nearby. There is a table loaded with picnic fare, including grilled Romanian hot dogs and grass-fed beef burgers that my sister and her partner do not eat or allow in their house. Their dog hovers close beneath people’s paper plates where the promise of casually discarded food lingers. A buddha sits amongst ferns underneath the treehouse at the west end of the garden, contemplating the family energy.
There is lots of conversation and laughter. Near the center of it all my mother is reassuring her sister, listening to her every word, sharing her wisdom. We have heard stories that they used to share a language that no one else could understand. When we were growing up, one would call the other on the phone and the other would pick up the phone before it even rang. They used to sing, write, and perform poetry together. (My aunt claims she wrote the comedic bits, my mother providing the heart.) When they were five, they lost their father, killed by an oncoming train. They remember seeing blood dripping from his coffin at his funeral and tightly holding each other’s hands.
Now they both sit near the newly planted catalpa tree, absorbed in serious conversation. They both have lost their husbands and most of their friends. They both are struggling to maintain any vestige of independence that they can. They both are dealing with persistent and compromising health situations. Some of the choices they have made in their long lives were not so good. They have regrets.
And they both know it is all coming to an end— but only one of them, with great compassion and selflessness, has found the grace to let go. Only one of them has learned what it means to love. It’s never too late.
(photo by JB)