My Aunt Linda's memorial service is today. I've spent weeks trying to come up with words that make sense with her life, and my relationship with her.
My first memories of her are bad. She had a tendency to rage at family gatherings, smack her kids, threaten me.
And yet, before my memory, my mom says that Linda was the only one who could comfort me when I cried as a baby and toddler.
And there is a song that I learned by heart at her house in a jumble of memories that seem so early that they are in a fog.
When I was a teen, my Aunt turned to Jesus for help, and she changed. When before she would scream, she would get quiet and cry. She had a Christian friend, and met a Catholic priest who walked her into faith step by step. She got an annulment of her previous (and extremely violent) marriage, and joined the Catholic church.
She began to laugh more . . .a dry, husky laugh that resonated deep within her and poured out like rain on parched earth.
When I was in college, we attended a writers' conference together for a weekend. We discussed writing, life, and where to get the best burgers.
She bought a house after years of renting, and started to grow a beautiful garden, determined to clean up the tough neighborhood that she had moved into on purpose.
I wish I could say that her life only improved from there. In some ways it did, and in other ways it didn't. She still struggled with her bitterness and anger, leftover habits from a hard childhood, and hard early adulthood.
She loved her family fiercely and protectively. There are things I know about her life that her grandchildren don't know, and may never know. She asked me years ago never to tell them certain details about her life, and I understand.
That is the part that amazes me sometimes. I didn't always like my Aunt Linda, but I understood her and I loved her. Her life and her character help shaped my own. She was a beautiful woman, a beautiful artist, a talented writer and gardener. She found and made beauty in the midst of tough circumstances.
And this is the song that will always remind me of her life, the song that I remember from a time before my memories really start.
an addendum, after the memorial service: At my Aunt Linda's memorial service, the priest and my cousin Brandon pointed out a pattern in my Aunt's life: when she relied on Jesus, she was happier, brighter and more beautiful. Her faith held her together.