My aunt is in her early 70s. She has her hearing, coupled with sharp critical thinking skills. She has her hand-eye coordination, which comes in handy for her line of work as a music therapist and ad hoc piano accompanist. She has her health, as demonstrated by every-other-day tennis matches in which she puts women 20 years her junior to shame. She does not have the love of her life.
My Estonian uncle, my aunt’s butter to her bread and breath to her joie de vivre, passed away after an on-again, off-again relationship with cancer that finally stayed on-again despite his insistence that it wasn’t the right partnership for him. Some relationships are like that, I suppose. My uncle took in his last bit of oxygen and exhaled one last time in the home he and my aunt shared, surrounded by family in one of those storybook tellings – except in Mother Goose they always make these moments sound peaceful and quiet, when really they are fraught with emotions, fragility, noise and the resounding knowledge that no one and nothing will be the same from here forward.
My aunt was the talk of the community after a while. I watched from as early on as days after her husband’s passing as the older men of the neighborhood attempted to court her, with comments of being a “merry widow” to sly looks to phone calls. For all appearances, she went about living: piano, singing, tennis, grandchildren. But as anyone knows, it’s not simply a matter of appearances, and I can only imagine the moments in solitude – perhaps standing in the shower or when curling up in bed – when she let herself go. And somewhere in that time of learning to let go and of being flirted with clumsily, despite not looking for anyone or anything to fill that void, someone appeared.
My aunt’s boyfriend lost the love of his life, too. He has kids, grandkids, his health, his mind, and most noticeably, his heart. Despite her not being the love of his life, and him not being hers, he gives her an incredible amount of time, attention, consideration and affection while still letting her be. He’ll detail her car while she’s out of town, or help her pick the perfect camera for taking photos of her family. He’ll be kind to her sister and brother-in-law, her nieces and nephews, and plan trips to Alaska so they can continue to see the world.
This love, different than love of the life love but something big in and of itself, was most obvious when I visited my aunt recently. Her boyfriend is an early riser, and she a later one. And he brings her coffee every morning in an insulated bag, leaving it on her back stoop (because he realized when he left it on her front stoop she was coming out in her robe to get it). If she’s not awake, he leaves it and goes about his way. If she is awake, she’ll come outside and they’ll sit on the patio or in the kitchen, drinking coffee together, reading the paper, and having a morning.
My aunt’s boyfriend brings her coffee every morning simply so it’s there when she wakes up, so she doesn’t even have to make it herself, because it’s a simple gesture he can make to her to show that he cares.