What I Would Have Said

I am painfully shy.  I don’t particularly like talking to strangers, and I can’t bring myself to speak publicly . . . unless it’s absolutely mandatory (work, school, etc.).  I would have liked to have spoken at Aunt Shirley’s funeral on Friday.  In fact, just about every muscle in my body was twitching, and my brain / inner dialogue was screaming at me to get up there and speak because I have so many wonderful things to say, but I just couldn’t.


About my propensity to be shy . . . I feel like we live in a world today where a shy person is treated as though they are defective. Aunt Shirley never made me faulty.  I never even had to tell her that I was shy. I didn’t know it then, as a child, because we view the world differently then than when we are grown, but I see it now, in hindsight – Aunt Shirley just accepted me for who I was, no questions asked. She had this innate understanding that I was just a shy kid, and it was OKay, and she didn’t push me to be anything other.

As a tot, I always looked so forward to going to the Litchfield Fair with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Norman each year. I was far too shy to order food for myself or speak up if I wanted some bobble. I’d tell Aunt Shirley what I wanted, and she’d order for me. She didn’t tell me to tell the person working at the counter; she spoke for me when I couldn’t vocalize my wants.  I didn’t have to ask Auntie for her help; she instinctively knew when I needed to borrow her voice.

There are two times I remember Aunt Shirley being mad. First, when I was given the raw burger at the fair.  (Even if I had wanted to speak up for myself in that scenario, she was already “on it.”).  The other time . . . Uncle Normal knocked her over in the swimming pool during a vacation in Vermont. There’s a third time she was mad, and it’s the only time I’m aware of that she was mad AT me, and that was when I ran off and got lost at the beach. I’ve always relied on “I was too young to remember” as reasoning for not remembering, but years of study in psychology has lead me to believe that I’ve just repressed it. With the exception of the pool fiasco, I think that even Aunt Shirley’s anger stemmed from love.

Aunt Shirley taught me many things I use today. I was pretty resistant to learn anything useful like canning and sewing or anything cooking and / or baking related.  In fact, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Norman have always been my champions when there’s been joking about my not cooking. “She’ll get it! She’ll do it!”

Aunt Shirley gave me a love for jigsaw puzzles that may be unmatched. I won’t settle for less than 1,000 – 2,000 pieces. She taught me to construct the frame first. I can hear her voice whenever I am sifting through (literally) thousands of pieces to find the edges, uring me to assemble the border. She taught me latch-hook, which I still enjoy to this day.  Like many, I’ve always admired her ability to cross stitch perfectly; I’ve always been in awe of how it is virtually impossible to differentiate the back from the front. I recently started cross stitching, and I was so convinced that I must be doing something wrong because the back is such a mess, that I asked a fellow cross stitcher to send me a picture of the back of one of their projects.  As I suspected, Aunt Shirley’s work is just . . . flawlessly epic.

Aunt Shirley and Uncle Norman have been present at all of the big events: graduations, weddings, showers, holiday gatherings – but also the little things too: softball games, school award ceremonies, BBQs, and moving days.  I suspect that we all have a memory of looking out in the crowd and seeing Aunt Shirley there.  I also postulate that we have all learned something from her that will live on, in each of us, for (our) forever.

After family gatherings and holiday meals, I always offer to wash the dishes.  There has never once been an instance, when someone who knows Shirley Maxwell, has not commented, “You wash dishes just like your Aunt Shirley!” Washing dishes will never again feel like a chore to me.


^What I would have said^

Surely Shirley

When did she become old?  When did she begin to traverse the aging process?  I still view my Aunt Shirley through the eyes of a child.  I regard Shirley as young and vibrant and affable with that enviable head of curly, bombshell blonde hair.

The unspoken truth lying heavily upon us like a sodden wool blanket is that this beautiful woman . . . a mother, a devoted wife, a sister, an in-law, a grandmother, an aunt, and a friend is at the end of her life.

This is the second of my Dad’s siblings to face the grim reality of life – death.  Aunt Shirley is the oldest of the brood, my Dad the youngest.  In between Aunt Shirley and Dad, in no particular order because honestly, I cannot remember the proper birth sequence of the middle ones: Barbara, Donald and Donna (“the twins”), and Ronald (deceased).  As an only child, I cannot fathom the loss of a sibling.  Though I have no experience with the bonds that tie brothers and sisters, I have an understanding of the complexities of their relationships.  Even more unfathomable is the loss of a parent; my heart aches for my cousins.  I know that I am so very blessed to have both parents living, especially when I nearly lost Mum years ago.

I have yet to shed a tear for Shirley.  However, while I write about her remaining days amongst the living, my eyes brim with tears, but I will not allow them to spill over.  I have vocalized all of the expected and appropriate sentiments of consolation, I have gone to visit and will continue to do so, but I feel . . . nought.  My well of emotions runs deeply so I know that my current lack of sensitivity is my visceral reaction to mournful situations, and therefore, it is merely temporary.  As is my typical pattern of behavior with loss, the dam will break when the hubbub dissipates and the quiet envelops me like a cloak of fog.

When did Aunt Shirley grow old?  Even as a young child, I never perceived my elders as old.  And because I have essentially zero perception of my own aging, I have had little awareness of the senescence around me.

I will remember Aunt Shirley as young and vibrant and affable with that enviable head of curly, bombshell blonde hair.