I anticipated entitling this post “Say it Before it’s Too Late.” However, immediately following Valentine’s Day, I feared everyone would assume the theme was about telling people you love them. Also a charming idea, but not the notion I want to explore.
Furthermore, I had another post planned for this date. Sadly, a single event changed my mind. I had long been advancing toward an interview piece about Eunice, 102 years old. But on a lovely warm evening in early February, with the sun just setting, Eunice Straznic died. For many reasons beyond her age, it was not unexpected. Nevertheless, rarely is everyone prepared. Someone close to her eloquently declared, “It took a lot of hard work on Eunice’s part to shift from earthbound to celestial.” Nice to know there were pieces of life still worth clinging to even as her body let go.
Eunice was more commonly “Aunt Eunice” and she played that role to an extended relative of mine, Allan. Eunice never had her own children, but from about the age of 16, she took the prime role in raising her siblings. It was another world. A time sometimes tough on young adults. Nevertheless, she was recognized as a real fighter, who never quit, and as such remained an inspiration to younger members in the family.
Never wanting to be far from that family, in her last days (actually last many years), Eunice was lucky to have the love, support and attention from her nieces and nephews. A situation that many without children would envy.
The process of interviewing Eunice started many months ago, although the term ‘interview’ (an in-depth look) was never truly achieved. You might imagine that her spirit was willing, but the body weak. But therein lies the question – was the spirit willing?
Eunice did share some details of her California life. Impressive for that day-and-age, she graduated high school and studied some beyond. This wasn’t by chance, as she indicated that “education and persistence” help you get the most out of life. More impressive about her study is that during the same time (as I mentioned) she was also responsible for several younger siblings, of various ages.
Due to parental illness, and the kind of family upheavals that affect all of our kinfolk on occasion, she became a substitute-mother. Those conditions created strong life-long family bonds.
Considering her early domestic duties, it could be anticipated that this unglamorous experience led to her first job — doing housework. She yearned to be a teacher, but it was never to happen. The depression and the war (WWII) introduced unwelcomed roadblocks and a different direction for her life.
She had various ‘women’s roles’ over her working years, such as minor factory work and office support. Additionally, although I was unable to clarify this for certain, it seems she performed secretarial and bookkeeping jobs as well.
Despite the fact that she did not reach her goal of becoming a teacher, she acknowledged that employment in life not only provided needed money, but also brought her the “luck of friends.” More important to her was her life’s purpose. As a Catholic, it might not be surprising that she reported this purpose as “faith.” Until the end, and throughout her life, she strove for happiness, but relied on her faith. She maintained this theme even after dementia struck her memories.
Those are some basic outward circumstances of Eunice’s loving life. It may tell you what she did, and give you a hint of who she was. Maybe. Conversely, sometimes it’s the small, snap-shot visions, or one-time images and anecdotes, that convey more about us. The secrets.
Her nephew, Allan felt that there were topics clearly “off-limits.” You know the type; the topics when brought up create an immediate change in subject. “Did you see that rain last night? Wow. Right? But we can use the water, don’t you think?”
Undoubtedly, Eunice had her reasons to keep her own council. She may have wished to hide some of her behavior, protect that of someone else, avoid a guilt-ridden situation or suppress an event unbearable to give voice to freely. We’ll never know. Whatever her rationale, her secrets went with her. No deathbed confessions or revelations, just a quiet loving end.
Lesson from Eunice
Here is my take-away lesson from Eunice, a woman I didn’t really know. It’s the decision to choose to share ourselves OR NOT. To be clear, I am not implying you always should. What I do propose is that we should consciously make that decision ourselves, leaving it neither to dementia, time or death.
Consider one of three routes:
NEVER. Decide you never want another living soul to know your secret. “Take it to the grave” as it’s said – a term continued to be used even as a greater number of us opt for cremation. The NEVER route means it will stay unknown, and you will stay just a bit less knowable.
WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE. Decide to share with a person of no consequence to you. Most of us know that feeling of telling a secret to a stranger you never expect to see again. [At least you pray not to after telling them your story.] You also might choose to share only with your God or “higher power,” or a religious leader (such as in confession).
UNBURDEN. Decide to unburden yourself to a loved one whom you hope – and trust – will love you “no matter what.” This can be a special gift to them as well, getting to know you to a deeper degree. Your decision may change over time. After intense consideration, you may decide the release is worth the pain and fear. You might share it with someone who then dies before you. Either way, you have shared it at some point in time. “It” becomes less a secret, and less a weight to carry.
I simply didn’t think much about this secret-issue before ‘Aunt Eunice.’ You may have finished this post and thought “I don’t have any secrets.” Maybe so. Still, just when you determine you are secret-free, something might come to mind that fits the category, even if long buried in your psyche.
I am considering now if I have any juicy (or not so juicy) secrets worth sharing. Whatever I decide, I am sending a thank you to Eunice (virtually, of course) for making me think about it at all.
Eunice also made me remember how amazing it is that so many times others can affect our thoughts and lives. Even with only tangential contact (those infamous “degrees of separation”), we can be touched.
Picture Credit: Heart and Key by quimono via Pixabay.
For Full Disclosure: The family requested that I change some names. Apologies to any real Eunice Straznic.