Growing the ability to see family members through eyes of love can develop over time with deeper awareness and wide-eyed, heart-opened, merciful, and compassionate remembering.
My grandfather served on faculty at The Ohio State University as a physical education professor. He started the intramural program, and became one of the four founders of The Ohio Staters, a service organization of students who continue to make a difference in the central Ohio community. He earned an honorary medal of distinction as an Emeritus Professor. There’s a flagpole with a plaque in his memory near Larkins Hall and the physical education complex across from the stadium.
During his tenure at OSU, he earned the privilege of being the “Voice of the Buckeyes” as the stadium announcer at home football games. He announced at the infamous Snow Bowl at the Shoe and would offer the score for Slippery Rock and the team Slippery Rock played which I think was an actual small college football team. The first football game played at the Ohio Stadium featured the Buckeyes against the Bishops of Ohio Wesleyan University. I happen to be an alum of both universities.
During the football games that my grandfather announced, my dad, being a boy, often sat with my grandfather in the press box. My dad’s sister, Aunt Barb, did not get to do so because she was a girl. My Aunt Barb told this story with persistent resentment. I believe this unfairness among other stories of her exclusion from activities because she was a girl became the catalyst for her passionate and active engagement with the equal rights movement. If you had spent time with my Aunt Barb, you’d have gotten an earful of her strong political opinions and passionate commitment to social and racial justice. She didn’t care much for cooking, though she did cook. She volunteered in her community and worked with the League of Women Voters. She also loved to knit and one Christmas she knitted every member of my family a beautiful sweater.
And she loved me as a little girl and young adult. Much like my Grandma Hope, my Aunt Barb felt like a loving lifeline throughout my Alice in Wonderland-like, traumatizing, crazy, beautiful childhood into adulthood.
In my Aunt Barb’s loving presence, I felt safe, seen, heard, and valued. My Aunt Barb and Uncle Phil showed up at both my weddings, my high school, and college graduation parties, and sometimes they attended a piano recital, a musical, or a dance performance. She remembered my birthday every single year well into my adulthood with a beautiful, sometimes hilarious card, a loving personal note, and gift. She loved to correspond with handwritten letters. I loved receiving her newsy letters and often wrote her back. My aunt and uncle lived in a small college town close to Cincinnati where my uncle worked as a chemistry professor. Quietly kind and quick to offer comedic insights, my uncle felt like the unflappable calm, wise, joy anchor of his family. He and my aunt loved and nurtured three beautiful, intelligent, multi-talented girls into womanhood, my cousins. I secretly wished I could be a member of their family.
I have many fond memories of time spent laughing and playing with my cousins at my parents’ house, at their home, and at my grandparents’ apartments for holiday celebrations. All of us cousins often created plays and performed these complete with props and thrown together costumes made of whatever we could find around the house. The six adults would take a break from playing bridge and cheer us on as our imaginary characters and stories came to life. Like the scenes from the movie, “Little Women” in which Jo, Beth, Amy, Meg and the boy next door, Laurie, performed plays together, I experienced the joy of make-believe which fueled my passion for theater and dance.
A few years before my uncle died and before my Aunt Barb had a stroke which left her speechless, my Aunt Barb became the person to assure me that the difficulties with my mother showed up years before I was born. What tearful, astonishing moments I experienced reading her letters as I began to dig deep into healing layered traumas–many of which happened in private interactions with my mother. My Aunt Barb let me know that my Grandma Hope had observed things about my mother and said to my dad when he was considering asking my mother for her hand in marriage, “Maybe the best thing you can do for this young lady is to let her go.” As a fierce protector of her younger brother, my aunt Barb had concurred with her mother in this three-way meeting. Obviously, my dad felt a strong bond with my mother and bravely chose his path of long-term love and faithfulness for a very troubled, complicated, dynamic, multi-faceted woman.
Even with this reveal, I remain in awe of my Grandma Hope’s conscious decision to unconditionally love and accept my mother in the wake of my dad’s choice. My mother did not once speak ill of my Grandma Hope. To the contrary, I watched my mother transform in the presence of her mother-in-law and one time tenderly take care of my Grandma Hope when she got sick while visiting my parents’ house. And my mother never forgot how her mother-in-law had taken care of her. Several times, close to my sister’s birthday, my mother told my sister and I how our Grandma Hope tenderly and lovingly cared for her round the clock for a couple weeks at my parents’ apartment after my sister was born. My mother had endured a life-threatening birth experience with my sister. My Grandma Hope, known during the war as the Little Round Nurse, knew how to gently care for hurting people.
My Aunt Barb and my mother had their differences, yet their commitment to valuing family time together transcended their personality clashes. My Aunt Barb’s sibling bond with her brother seemed as strong as my mother’s marital bond with my dad. Both women loved my dad fiercely, deeply, and unwaveringly inside their respective roles. And so many people loved and respected my dad, who much like his mother demonstrated an immense capacity to love, accept, and celebrate other people.
May each of you know the legacy of love you created with your hurt, your brave actions, and passionate commitment to plant seeds of possibility for so very many people, including me.
For Aunt Barb, Uncle Phil, Mom, Dad, Grandma Hope Staley, and Grandpa Staley, from my heart to yours in the Big Ball of Love with immense gratitude and love,
p.s. I composed this essay a day after my dad’s older sister, Aunt Barb, died to honor her life and the complexities, joys, and love of family. I now know that an immense capacity to love, heal, and forgive arise from cleansed memories of ordinary, exceptional people in your life who lived and loved beyond belief.
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately supports people thriving by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, and life. Laura is the published author of four books including Live Inspired which reveals the brave and deep work of self-discovery and her new book of short writings and poetry Abundant Heart: Thoughts on Healing, Loving, and Living Free where with her characteristic grace and candor, Laura shares thoughtful-sometimes comical reflections on healing, loving and living free as inspirational pathways for experiencing a soul-centered, fulfilled life.