My sister and I were sitting around the living room, chatting about aging and getting old. She had it all planned out. She knew who she was going to be and was excited to get there. “I’m going to be one of those eccentric old ladies when I get old dressing up in a fur coat and sweats to go shopping.” We started laughing. A memory of our aunt surfaced.
O.k., let me tell you about my aunt. My aunt was the definition of eccentric until she got old. Then she became the docile, homebody, trudging around in age-appropriate clothing and driving a clean car. But up until then, she was the crazy, non-conformist aunt. Of course, my sister and I were in our late teens and early 20’s and had the good fortune of staying with her up on Tai Shen Mountain.
How her home got the name “Tai Shen Mountain” is a different story, and maybe I’ll find time to tell you about it sometime.
My aunt had hit that milestone in life where her doctor labeled her as obese. You might know about that milestone. It kind of sneaks upon you, and you are unprepared for it. One day you are in the doctor’s office, and she is taking notes. You know you’ve gained weight, but all your friends are great liars and say you look great.
Your doctor has to check on something and steps out, giving you the necessary time to flip the computer screen and look at her notes. Since it’s about you, and you can get a copy, everything seems fine until you read the notes, “Patient is obese.”
Well, my aunt had hit that milestone in life where weight made non-elastic pants too restraining. Her wardrobe had graduated to clogs and sweats. Not even nice sweats. The thick, bunch-at-the-ankle sweats you bought at Costco in a variety of colors. Like the colors would make them stylish or something. Top it off with white sweat socks and a pair of Birkenstocks, and she was up and running for the day.
I can remember her yelling out to us as we sat on the back porch doing nothing of importance, “Kimmy, Lisa, do you want to go to Costco?!” It wasn’t until she was much older that she was comfortable doing things by herself. But my sister and I had nothing better to do, and a ride to Costco might be a nice change.
Sitting idly and chatting in the car on that warm fall day in Southern California, we waited for my aunt. It was weird. You could almost feel her presence before looking up from whatever had captured our attention.
I felt a small gasp leave my throat. My aunt stood blocking the sun, casting her face into shadows and highlighting the threads of her tightly curled, dry, frizzy hair, making it appear as if electricity was running through it. There was an air of defiance in her stance.
But that wasn’t the only thing that was disturbing. She was bigger than she should be. She was much bigger. There was this massive blob with a small frizzy globe on top.
My sister and I waited. When she was sure she had captured our attention and punctuated it with a period, she sauntered to the driver’s door. That was when I saw it, what was making her so huge.
It was an old, 3/4 length, mink fur coat. What? It was California and warm. It wasn’t fur-wearing temperature. In fact, it was never fur-wearing temperature in Southern California.
I could feel myself start to sweat, watching her as she pushed herself behind the steering wheel. It was amazing. Pink sweats, sunglasses, Birkenstocks wrapped up in an aging mink coat, and carrying a purse.
There was no getting out of it. We had said we were going, to try and jump ship now would have ignited her indignation. We would have paid for it in creative little ways that even we couldn’t have imagined. Like maybe dinner would be peas and liver. Or, she would consume the only television for days with Rural Farm Delivery (RFD) and livestock auctions.
So, facing forward with windows rolled up and air conditioner blazing, we took off.
“So, what made you decide to wear that coat?”
“It’s my coat, and I can wear it if I want too,” a small smirk traveled across her lips. “Why, don’t you like it?”
Ah, defensiveness, obviously she knows there is something wrong with her decision-making skills. And that’s when it got even better. Suddenly, small tufts of black hair got caught up in the gale-force wind coming out of the air-conditioning vents. My aunt swiped across her face to remove the little hairs capturing her nose. Some managed to get caught in her mouth as she was talking. Flicking her tongue, she tried to spit them out.
The coat was so old and so poorly taken care of, it was shedding.
We stared at her, not saying a thing, and just as suddenly as she appeared, she started laughing. She was all in.
I got to give her credit. She was creative, and life was a band with everyone playing a separate tune.
My sister and I would laugh every time we remembered that crazy Costco adventure with my most gifted aunt. I learned a lot from my aunt. I learned life didn’t have to be defined by anyone else, and everything you do is going to make a memory. Try to make them fun. I learned there was no point in taking yourself too seriously. And under all this, I learned about joy.
I think that adventure made a lasting impression on my sister. That carefree freedom, I don’t care what you think. My sister was going to be that crazy grandmother and torment her daughter and grandchildren in the same way our crazy aunt tortured us.
Here’s the thing, joy isn’t waiting for you at the end of your journey. Joy only happens in the here and now. You can’t dream your way to joy. I think that is important for you to know because you see, my sister and I were having that conversation three months before her passing.
We were pretending those dreams were a possibility when we both knew they were never going to happen. We were pretending what clothes we would wear and where we would go drinking our mixed drinks on the deck overlooking the ocean. And I loved sharing her dreams with her and learning who she was deep inside. Learning what her desires and wishes were and how she had wanted her life to go.
Two weeks before she passed, when her body was failing her, and she could no longer climb the stairs, we sat on her bed feeling the ocean breeze waft between the bedroom curtains talking about what she wanted her funeral to be. Before, she had always said she had never thought about it.
But she had. She had thought about it a lot. “I want my ashes scattered in the ocean.”
“What about the forests of the Northwest?” I remembered our last trip to the ancient Doug Fir forests in Canada. If I wanted to, but she wanted some of her ashes shared with the ocean.
“Why do you want to be shared with the ocean?”
She paused, capturing her breath and thoughts. The tiredness was making it hard for her to focus and breathe. “Because I’ve always felt so constrained in this life, and I can go anywhere in the ocean.”
I thought about our conversation three months earlier and how she wanted to be that eccentric grandmother who threw caution to the wind.
You don’t get to plan for joy. If you want joy in your life, you have to see it right now in everything you do. If you think you’ll be that person someday, you won’t. If you want to be that person, you better start practicing now.
Test it out. Wear outrageous shoes. Put on a headband and braid your hair with multi-colored yarn. See how it fits you. Everything in this life is your creation. Who knows what is really going on out there.
Let’s say you try it out and feel a bit embarrassed or insecure, but still want to do it. Then come in, and let’s open up your chakras and release your old programming. Let’s open up your heart again and find the joy that brought you into this world.
Seven months later, I was able to honor her request and release a part of her into the ocean. I watched her ashes quickly spread to the currents. It was almost as if I could feel her sigh of relief.