Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Remembering Aunt Carol

Photo taken at John's wedding on July 30, 2016

My Aunt Carol passed away on February 14, 2018. which happened to be both Valentine's day and Ash Wednesday; she was only 61. She passed away from complications of diabetes which she had for 58 years. I was able to travel home to the funeral and spent 3 days with my family without my boys this last weekend -- Friday, March 2 was the funeral.

Carol is my mom's sister. They were really close (2.5 years apart) and a lot of the stories I heard as a child were about their room-sharing years. Carol was also the one to tell me how my mom and dad met and how their relationship progressed from first meeting to marriage in only 6 months. She was a fantastic cook and did it all in a very tiny kitchen. 

I'd like to take a moment to write my memories of her here -- as a tribute, but also for my own process of grieving. A few of my memories of Carol were corrected during the eulogy--my timing was off by just a few years. 

Yes, that is me with Carol in 1983

Carol was one of my godparents and baptismal sponsors. I was around 2 years old when she got married and shortly after that she moved to Monterey, California. A few years after they moved, they had a son and moved back to Minneapolis. I don't have very many vivid memories of those early years but as I grew older, I felt very close to her and loved her entirely. And when I was preparing to move to San Francisco, she was really excited for me and even took me to Ikea to get ideas on living in small spaces! She knew first hand how small everything was out here -- but I think her kitchen in Monterey must have been even smaller than mine from the stories she told.

We would see her once or twice a year, usually around the holidays. My most vivid memories of spending time with Carol were our shopping trips. She was always up for Black Friday shopping and she made it so much fun. I remember standing in lines at 6 a.m. with my list of items I wanted to hunt for. She was great at navigating Twin Cities traffic and the shopping crowds. She always knew where she was going. 

When I was a little girl, maybe 4, I had received a set of nail polishes. Carol was the one to sit down with me and paint my nails. I remember it very clearly. I felt so special -- and pretty. I also remember her visiting our home in Northern Minnesota, I must have been 5 or 6 and she and I were coloring in my giant coloring book. The pictures were of ducklings and she was just outlining them in yellow instead of coloring them in. I got angry and said she wasn't doing it right. But after I settled down, I remember thinking how pretty it looked that way and started outlining things too.

There were two shopping trips in particular that I remember very well. I was a bit older maybe 7 and we were shopping for a dress for me. I'm not sure what the dress was for -- maybe Christmas or Easter. Carol found it and it was perfect. I loved it. It was a white turtleneck with pink polk-a-dots and a pink skirt with white polk-a-dots and suspenders. As far as I remember, it was all one piece. I remember standing between Carol and my mom just hoping Carol could convince her that this was the one to get. And she did!

The other shopping trip was a little more traumatic. We had been out all morning shopping and filling the car with bags and bags. Before heading back to grandma's house we stopped at Cub Foods for a few things. We had parked closer to the side door and the ground was really slushy and wet, Carol didn't want to walk over to the main entrance so we came in through the side door -- I'm not sure if that was okay. I remember feeling sort of sneaky. As we rushed through the doors to get a cart, Carol slipped on the slick floor and fell down. She lay there for a long time and people started crowding around. The store manager arrived. It was chaos. Mom told me to run to the car and Carol's snacks. An ambulance came and we followed to the hospital. I remember being really worried that the doctors wouldn't know she was a diabetic and wouldn't treat her correctly. We were there for a really long time. She had broken her knee cap in multiple places. 

This was my first time in a hospital other than to meet my siblings. I was really worried about my aunt for a long time. She did recover well, but in my mind, the hospital stays and complications from her disease really took off after that. I'm not exactly sure of the timing or how many years it was before her next hospitalization, but to me -- a little girl completely unfamiliar with diabetes, hospitals and timelines-- it felt very short. There were kidney transplants and heart surgeries and dialysis, infections and fluid and long hospital stays. It seemed never ending.  

In 2008, my cousin got married in Nebraska and the day after we were sitting around the table and Carol got really upset that she missed a call from her doctor. They had a kidney for her. She had to get there now. There was a lot of panic and rushing around (and figuring out how to hear the voicemail!). My uncle drove her to the airport and she flew home that day. I don't remember the details after that but there were a lot of phone calls and uncertainty if the kidney would take.

A year later, she was able to plan and host my bridal shower and travel to my wedding! I was so happy to have her there. After moving away from home, each visit seemed to be more and more precious. The future, just so uncertain.

Carol was also a very "lucky" person -- seriously, it seemed like if she put her name in a drawing or a raffle, she won. The first was a trip to Disney World for 4 and since she had a family of 3, they decided to take my brother (who was a little older than her son). I wasn't too jealous but wow -- what a trip! My brother even brought back gifts for us! She also won a new leather chair and a patio. She was also an extra in the movie "Jingle All the Way." I'm sure there were others too. 

The most important thing to remember about my Aunt Carol was her faith in Jesus. She walked closely to the Lord most of her life and was clung to Him with each struggle. She wasn't one to complain about her life -- even though it would have been totally understandable from my perspective. She trusted the Lord with everything and prayed for each of her nieces and nephews often. She would often ask me to pray for people too, rarely herself. I'm so glad I could witness her faith and share in it too. 

In December, Chris, the boys and I stopped in Minneapolis before driving north and had dinner with Carol and my Great Aunt Sylvia. She wasn't doing that well but felt up for it anyway. I'm so glad she was. This was the last day I got to see her, December 22. I don't know if we talked about anything important or I just rambled on about my boys, but we were together for a few hours and I'm grateful.

It was really hard to hear the news of her passing and realize she was no longer with us. Going home and being with family was really good, but strange. It made her absence real. The only joy in letting her go is knowing that she is with her Savior Jesus who wipes away every tear and heals every pain. 

I love you Carol. I'm so glad you were my Aunt; that you belonged to my family. I'm rejoicing (in tears) that you are with your Heavenly Father now. Thank you for living such a faithful and cheerful life in the midst of such hardship and pain. Thank you for loving me so much and making such great efforts to spend time with me. I will cherish these memories always.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Radium Girls

I just finished this book after hearing about it from a friend. I have to admit my ignorance and confess that I had no idea that this happened--that hundreds of women were poisoned from working in radium dial factories and had to fight not only for a diagnosis but for rights to compensation and aid from their employers. Workman's compensation and work safety laws have come a long way since the 1930s and these women did a lot to make all of it happen.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a really well put together story of several of the women's lives before they began their employment with the radium factories until their deaths. She has interviewed family members, read reports, and visited the areas affected. Her writing includes both narratives and research which makes for an interesting, all-encompassing read. I feel like I learned a lot!

She also writes it in a way that is very honoring to the women. We know their passions, what they enjoyed in life and what was ultimately taken away from them. We learn how many barriers were overcome and how much it hurt to keep going. But they didn't give up. It's incredible to think how strong these women were and all they accomplished.

I hope you'll give it a read. Be warned, it's long! 480 pages

Bookclub: A Long Way Home

Last month, my bookclub read A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. It's a memoir of Saroo's journey to find his biological mother. He was born in India, and at the age of 5 got lost and was sent to an orphanage (that's the short version!). His adoption brought him to Australia where he grew up with great parents but still felt a longing to know where he had come from.

His search was long and tedious as his 5 year old memory was all he had. And as technology improved and the Internet became faster and better, he soon found his way back. It's really an interesting story and really a miracle that his family did reunite.

The book itself was a quick read and didn't seem to be embellished or anything. In fact, some chapters seemed a little mundane (just like some days in my own life I supposed!). The movie I hear that is coming will probably be really good -- getting to see the India in which he grew up and the shock of going back as an adult would make a great visual. And to see the emotions played out might also be easier than reading about them.

I loved the story and am so thankful he found his way home.