Last week, my adored Aunt Mimi passed from this world to the next. She was 95-years-old and still had buckets of sass left in her, but was ready for the next leg of her journey. She was tired. Her mind and body ached with a longing to be free. The family and friends she shared her life with had gone before her. Yes, she still had a few of us left, but she was ready to go, to say her see-you-laters, to be the woman she used to be.
Aunt Mimi was actually my great auntie on my father’s side. She was my beloved grandmother’s sister and the matriarch of our teeny tiny family.
(from L-R: my grandmother, Smirky McGee me, The German (back row), my sister, Mimi)
Mimi and I had a very storied history, some of it tender, some of it tumultuous, all of it loved. She was a New Yorker and I am a Texan. To say we each had an opinion that we weren’t bashful about sharing is akin to saying that we both loved sweets. So. Much. Yes.
For over 22 years, I have called Aunt Mimi once a week, sometimes more if the circumstance called for it, to catch up, to share our lives, to gossip and sometimes to share a cocktail hour together. I knew as the years passed that our bond was extraordinary; I told myself to remember each conversation like it might be our last.
She could be infuriating old-school. Patti, you should apologize no matter if you’re at fault or not. The oldest apologizes first. I’d disagree, offering that I’d rather work out an issue honestly, than with falsehoods. This is why your siblings get mad at you.
I’d roar in laughter. She had a point, albeit wrong, in my opinion. Yet, I couldn’t deny that she might be right in her assessment.
We were night and day different, but also shared many many similarities.
When I married Garry, he heard the stories of how I was a mini-Mimi and had been my entire life. (what the hell was wrong with that?) But, it wasn’t until he met Mimi for the first time that he realized every story he had been told was truth.
To Illustrate: When my grandmother passed away, Garry and I traveled to Buffalo for the funeral. As we drove from the airport to Mimi’s house, I told Garry that Mimi had insisted we stay with her, but we should stay in a hotel because there would be more family traveling in and staying at her home. I told him to let me do the talking, that Mimi could be stubborn, that she’d put up a fight, but I’d tell her of our plans.
Cut to Mimi’s dining room, with me standing at the head of one side of the table and Mimi standing at the other, with Garry sitting in the middle. Mimi and I were a mirror image of the other, both with our hands on our hips, leaning in, informing the other of what was what. I was telling Mimi that under no circumstance would we be staying and she was informing me that under no circumstance would we be leaving.
Garry looked at the ridiculousness that was me and Mimi and burst out laughing. The stories! They’re true! Look at you two!
It was a moment of great levity and laughter. Mimi won; we stayed.
As in all lives, there are moral failures and mistakes made. Mimi was no exception. When you talk to someone once a week for over 20-years, you get to know them in a way that many don’t. I knew her regrets, as she knew mine. I knew what weighed on her, as she knew what weighed on me. I knew her joy, as she knew mine.
In these last few days, since she has passed, I am more acutely aware of the depth of our relationship. While we were separated by over 1800 miles, there was no distance that could separate our love.
Mimi was my go-to for advice, for family history, for sharing, for listening. Throughout her life, she remained one of the strongest advocates for my writing career. What are you working on? Are you keeping up? Don’t stop writing. Keep writing. If I failed to send her a copy of any article I had written (which was a rare occurrence), she would hound me until it was in the mail (she didn’t do computers).
She loved asking and knowing the latest about my son, his family, Garry (oh, how she loved Garry!), our dog (she was a huge lover of pups), as well as reminding me to hang up and go write.
One of our running gags was one-upping the other in weather reports. I won every single time in the summer and she won every single time in the winter. I couldn’t compete with 10 feet of snow on the ground with frozen shut house doors and she couldn’t compete with 15 straight days of 100° weather. The idea of a continuous running a/c unit was beyond her comprehension. I told her if she lived here, she’d learn to love the a/c; she refused to believe she could live with the noise.
Mimi’s biggest concern for me was my running. She didn’t understand it and she tried for years to persuade me to stop. As if. She would tell me how dangerous the heat is, how I could die, and why don’t I take up gardening. Every time I headed out the door, I’d think of her and wish she didn’t worry.
Mimi was a private woman about family history. This is a trait she shared with my grandmother, although, I believe it to be what remained from the time they came up in, when secrets died with people. She thought me pushy when I asked. I thought her too cautious when she held back. Eventually, we found a way to talk about the things that mattered in a family.
I learned many lessons from Mimi, especially as she aged. We each had one child, sons. We each were fiercely independent. We each refused help from others unless under extreme duress. Many times, this worked against her, instead of for her, as it had when she was younger. I made mental notes of what worked and what didn’t. I know many of those lessons will come into play, in my son’s favor, as I get older. I’m grateful for that.
As I spoke to Mimi’s son yesterday, I wanted him to know what she had meant to me. I told him that I was the lucky one, that she had enriched my life beyond measure, that in my loss I hoped that I could offer someone what she had offered me. She gave me unconditional love, comfort, joy, kicks-in-the-pants when needed and so much laughter.
The first time I said (in jesting love) to Mimi: Look, you crazy old woman…I don’t think I had ever heard her laugh so hard. Most in her life were intimidated by her outer New Yorker shell (tough, like stone!) and couldn’t get past it to the loving gooey center. Few in her life had dared talk to her that way. She knew me well enough to know that #1) I was kidding and #2) I wasn’t kidding. It became our inside joke. I loved that she got me, as she loved that I got her.
As was our habit at the end of every phone call, there was much love professed for the other. We argued over who was more blessed to have the other in their lives. We hated to hang up. I promised to call again soon. I hung on her every I love you, dear. I didn’t once take for granted that our last conversation might be our final conversation.
When I got the call that Mimi had passed on Sunday (that’s why she didn’t answer her phone on Monday), I was at once relieved that she was finally home and instantly sad at the loss of greatness in my life.
My prayer today is that we be open to that which seems hard on the outside, yet turns out to be the softest place to land on the inside. May you all be so blessed to have a Mimi.
RIP, you crazy old woman. I’ll see you again.