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My Sister

Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.  Dalai Lama

Dare to live full the one precious life that is yours.

I want to tell you a story, one close to my heart.  My sister entered hospice a few weeks ago.  She plans to die at home in the apartment in Connecticut she shares with her husband of twenty-two years.  But this isn’t a story about dying.  This is a story about living.  My sister is a buoyant soul.  Her name is Auralie.  It was a hard name to own as a girl in the sixties when Sally and Nancy and Lynn and Sharon were the norm in our New England town.  More often than not, it was mispronounced in a myriad of comical ways at swim meets when she would step up to the block to compete in the distance events that were her specialty.  We would laugh and she would take it in stride because she was a good sport.  But I don’t think she realized until she was an adult how appropriate a gift our mother gave to her at birth with this name that shines bright with the word “aura”.  Auralie is funny and fun and competent and creative — a potter, a weaver, a seamstress extra-ordinaire — and her aura is a powerful beam of light that uplifts those around her.

And now, as her body loosens its hold, as her voice, that was always boisterous and hearty, weakens and slows its tempo, as she settles into the letting go of this physical world, her aura still is beaming that light.  And this story I am sharing with you shines of Auralie’s aura, and of a generosity between cousins.  It was in the midst of the pandemic, before Easter, after some medical tests, that Auralie heard the news, that things had worsened and spread and the prognosis was months to live.  Her doctor, who had become close, was flustered when he made this dire pronouncement, told her that he always wore a tie, never had forgotten, but on this day, in the midst of a pandemic and having to tell her this, he was tieless and vulnerable.  Of course, Auralie and her husband were devastated that day in early April; we all were.  But she couldn’t stay dimmed for long, especially when sharing with someone who is probably her best friend.  “I’m going to buy him a tie!” Auralie exclaimed to our cousin, when relating the whole story.  And our cousin replied, “I can do better than that; I can send you a whole box of them.”

You have to understand that Auralie and our cousin bonded early.  Our mother, a widow, with two young children, re-married in the mid-fifties.  And, it was at the wedding, while eyeing that amazing cake and soaking in the sea of happiness, that these two four-year-old girls, born within six weeks of each other, one the daughter of the bride, the other, the niece of a beloved uncle who was the groom, became fast friends with a love of cakes and joyful celebration.  And during the next few summers, before our parents built their own cottage in the cove on the other side of the point, the cousins lived within a holler of each other, our family in the old saltwater farmhouse and Karen’s family on top of the granite hill in the lodge that was once the main building of our family’s summer camp.  Though I was a baby and toddler during this time and can’t remember specifics, I’ve heard stories of their back and forth message-sending, their sharing of candy and cookies, their romps in the woods.  Our father named his bright red lobster boat “The Auralie” and the cousin-shared boat rides were filled with salty spray and sea sparkle and boisterous loud fun.  And later, I witnessed their exuberance first-hand.  During the school year, we lived in town; our cousin’s family lived in the country, and, many a night, our cousin spent with us in our rambling sea captain’s home.  I remember Auralie and our cousin’s laughter, their escapades and cookie-making, their bumping down our long winding staircase on their bottoms, their secret language that a younger sister could only observe from the outside.  I want you to know I have my own Auralie stories, an ocean of them — our sister-friendship is remarkable and the five-year-gap in our ages didn’t stop us from being the best of friends growing up.  But this is about our cousin.  And Auralie.  And their friendship.  I’m sure their stories also can fill an ocean and their bond has lasted through all these decades of living.

And there are the ties.  In her twenties, our cousin married her beloved Dane who was a generation older, and their marriage, immersed in home on their tidal river in Maine and travel to his native Scandinavia, was deep and true and filled with creativity and spanned over four decades until his passing a year ago.  “I have a whole box of John’s ties,” my cousin told Auralie, and Auralie shared this with me in a phone call three weeks ago before hospice, before her voice became weak, before confusion began to set in.  “I’m going to give them to my doctor when I see him on Wednesday.”  And a week later, when I next spoke to her, while walking on my favorite two-track on a sunny May morning with spring breaking through the long wintery cold-streak in northern Michigan, Auralie’s voice, though slower, softer, was also sunny as she told me of care packages, how our cousin had sent Fig Newtons, their childhood favorite.  “What about the ties?” I asked.  “Did you give your doctor the ties?”  “Yes!” she replied, her aura shining through.  “I did!”  “What did he say?”  That’s when she told me, “He tucked his head and he cried!”

Later, on that same walk, I called our cousin, told her what Auralie had just told me.  “I think your friendship is amazing,” I said, my voice faltering with the truth of it all.  And she replied, “I think your sister is amazing, to scheme of gifting her doctor a tie, to find humor and delight in the midst of sadness.”  So there you have it.  My sister is amazing.  And so is our cousin.  And the sparkle in an exuberant person is a resilient thing.  That afternoon, under the brilliant blue sky of early May, while standing next to that largest of lakes, I handed my husband a crystal and he held it in his palm for a moment, then called out, “for Auralie!” and tossed it into the harbor.  We watched it plunk into the water, watched it begin to sink, watched it for what seemed like a very long time as it spun and sparkled and finally found its way down into the depths beyond our reach.

The Cousins and the Cake: April 1955

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