On My Mind: I can still hear you now

The people closest to you never really go away.

Just a few moments ago I saw a Facebook post from my cousin that brought a smile to my face. He shared a memory from 2015 about his mom, my Aunt Pat. She was having trouble finding a TV broadcast she wanted to watch, and she was talking with my cousin on the phone as she did so. When my cousin heard her voice sound far away and she kept asking if he could hear her, he realized she was trying to talk to him on the remote.

They both shared a good laugh, and later she told him she found it so funny she woke up that night still chuckling over the experience.

I can so clearly picture Aunt Pat laughing it’s as if she’s right here with me. Since I can’t stop thinking about her I’m savoring the memory. I had a totally different column in mind before I saw my cousin’s Facebook post, but that can wait. Today I’m simply going with the flow.

Aunt Pat left us in 2017, and I find it difficult to comprehend it has been that long ago. You hear talk about people waging a courageous battle with cancer, and Aunt Pat was one of those people. She was a woman of faith, very much at peace with her journey. We spoke regularly by phone, and our conversations as she approached the end of her life left me in awe. That was one of her many priceless gifts to me, a life lesson on facing our own mortality.

Although we all must die and leave our loved ones behind – and we all must face the loss of loved ones – it’s one of life’s great wonders how those who have passed never really go away. They remain with us in a different way. That’s all, in our minds and in our spirits.

Aunt Pat and Uncle Don always lived a distance away, in Oklahoma, but we saw each other during extended visits at Christmas time and sometimes in the summer. In a way, that distance seemed to bring us closer.

For many years Aunt Pat and I had regular phone conversations, and I always felt refreshed and content when we finished. Sometimes we talked about life, and about her memories of family. Most often we talked about my writing. Aunt Pat was an open, honest and intelligent critic.

She very rarely criticized anything I had written. Instead she used positive reinforcement, sharing what she liked about her favorite writings.

What I miss most of all is her opinions about what I was working on, or what project I should tackle next. She understood me very well, how my mind worked, and had keen insight into what project was the best fit when I had several in mind. Even to this day, as I contemplate my next book, I can instinctively hear Aunt Pat’s advice.

For even longer than we talked regularly by phone, Aunt Pat and I exchanged letters. Actually it’s not really fair to say we exchanged letters. For every short note I send her she sent me four or five long letters. Over the last 25 years or so Diane sent her letters accompanied by clippings of these On My Mind columns, and she would respond with wonderful critiques of her favorites.

We have saved many of Aunt Pat’s letters. Even though I still greatly miss our phone conversations, I still get that same wonderful, warm feeling inside when I read one of those old letters.

The entire time while writing this I have pictured Aunt Pat laughing over the TV remote, and I can hear her voice encouraging me and stressing over and over again my writing talent and the need to put it to good use. I can’t thank my cousin Kent enough for sharing that Facebook memory.

So I’m still chuckling, yet I must admit it’s bittersweet. I’d give nearly anything to be able to pick up the phone and give her a call, and I will miss that until the day I die. But she’s still with me, in a very real way, and my gratefulness for that gift will never go away.

Don Allison is an author, historian and retired editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.

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