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Aunt Lorraine ....

I got the unexpected call one summer afternoon in Georgia.

“Your Aunt Lorraine is dying of cancer. She is living in Willsboro."
I put the phone down in quiet shock.
I had not seen Aunt Lorraine since childhood…and only twice at that.
Now here she was, after all these years, living just a few towns away.
I barely knew her.
But without thinking about it, I knew I had to go to her.

Logistically, it was going to be a bit difficult.
At the time, I was dealing with problems of my own.
I was on crutches after a recent knee surgery. I was barely able to get around. And to make matters worse, I had lost my car to a flood just days before.
My pain and distress were minor compared to hers, though.
So I rented a car and found my way to the address my mother had given me.

I had often wondered what had happened to Aunt Lorraine.
When I asked my mother once, she pretended not to hear my question.
Being the kind of child that I was, I pressed for an answer.
She informed me rather stiffly that we no longer associated with that family.
“Why?" Was there an incident or a slight that I wasn’t aware of?
“Well, no... We just don’t associate with them.”
That’s crazy, I thought. I wanted to know why!
Her answer came slowly in grave tones. “They are the poor relatives.”
On hearing that, I stifled a laugh and no small amount of dismay.
I thought to myself, “But we were poor ourselves! Since when did we not associate with poor relatives!?”

I guess in the final tally, it was all relative.
You see, when we last saw them, they were living in a rickety 3 room house
in southern Illinois, about where Appalachia begins.
The old frame house they called home had peeling paint and a roof that leaked. More shocking, however, were the packed dirt floors and oiled brown paper where window panes should have been.
The toilet was a few yards to the rear of the little house.
It was a bit of a shock to us at first, but we were just kids and we adjusted quickly.
At any rate, we had arrived just in time for the annual Popcorn Festival.
In fact, their little town was the Popcorn Capital of the World.
“The WHOLE world?” we asked our cousins excitedly.
“Yes! The whole entire world!”
We were dizzy with awe. Mind you, we were 5 and 6 years old...
We were in for a treat! What amazing good fortune!
For starters, we had the run of the whole town!
The whole town consisted of just one street...maybe 5 blocks long.
There were a few houses scattered around the main drag.
After that, corn fields surrounded the hamlet in all directions.
Old clapboard houses lined Main Street.
Then there was the grocery/hardware/feed store.
But the shining jewel set in the middle of it all was the Grand Movie Theater!

The town overflowed with free popcorn in red and white striped boxes.
We did our best to gobble up as much as possible, despite the tummy aches that were sure to follow.
There was an abundance of lemonade to go with it for a penny a glass.
The Grand Movie Theater played special films all day long for a nickel!
Roy Rogers, The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton! We were giddy with excess!
We youngsters ran wild all through the town.
Of course, It didn’t take long to run out of town so when we’d had our fun there, we headed for the corn fields that surrounded the tiny town.

Now, not knowing anything about corn fields and being in reckless moods,
we scattered into the tall foliage of the fields for a game of hide and seek.
Before long we were hopelessly lost, having only blue cloudless sky overhead to navigate by. The stalks were so tall and we were so small...
I remember running through the corn, first this way, then that way,
trying to find my way out. Soon, I realized that I was hopelessly lost.
It was getting late in the day now and I was afraid the sun would go down
and no one would be able to see me.
Suddenly, all I wanted was to go home!
I slumped into a heap among the towering cornstalks and cried terrible tears.
I was sure I would never be found….not before dark….maybe not ever.
My now desperate sobs drowned out the sounds around me.
But just when I couldn’t cry any more, I heard the familiar voices of my parents calling. They had found me!
We children were, one and all, rescued, cleaned up and fed our supper.
It felt so good to be back in the embrace of our family.
That was a Popcorn Festival to remember!

Those were the thoughts that engaged my mind as I drove through the countryside that bright, sunny day that should have been so full of promise…just like the days of The Popcorn Festival...
I wondered what I would say to my Aunt after all this time.
After all, nearly forty years had passed.
My mind raced, tossing out most of the ideas that came.
In the end, I knew I wouldn’t offer any trite or sanctimonious remarks.
I decided finally to just share the good memories of our early visits.
It was the only real thing I had to offer.
Maybe it would make her smile to know how good it felt to be with her
in her humble, but welcoming home.
In the end, that’s all that seemed to matter.

I parked in front of the house she now shared with her daughter and her family.
I wondered what they would think about this long lost relative
showing up on crutches in a rental car.
Oh well...it just didn’t matter now, under these circumstances.
I made my way up the walk and hobbled up the steps to the front door.
I knocked, brushing away the last of my fear and waited for the door to open.
As the door opened, a large dog bounded toward me, nearly knocking me over.
He was caught just in time by a tall bearded man…my aunt’s son-in-law.
Aunt Lorraine had been living with them for a few years now, he explained.
As I walked in, I saw my aunt, a diminutive figure sitting alone on the couch, amid the bustle of this noisy family.
She held her right side gingerly. Liver cancer, mother had said. Inoperable.
I was quickly ushered past her and into the kitchen to meet my cousin
and their kids. It was as if Aunt Lorraine wasn't there...
There had been no greeting, no introduction.
As we talked and they went about their daily routine I had the disturbing sensation that they had already written her off.
They didn’t seem to realize that I had come to see Aunt Lorraine.
They were excitedly telling me all about their lives.
Eventually, I made reference to Lorraine.
"Oh...yes, of course."
I managed to make my way to the couch, where we were introduced finally. She was feeling a bit weak. I sat down next to her and we chatted a bit.
I tried to get a sense of her situation...
I had the impression that she needed to be held…just a hand in hers.
She was so small and frail, nearly swallowed up by the overstuffed couch.
She seemed so….what was the word.... untouched.
I watched as the family steered a wide berth around her…almost as though
she was contagious.
She and I talked a bit more, sharing our few memories and then we sat quietly, resting for awhile. There was little else to say.
I felt awkward in the silence...helpless.
In that silence, I began to feel a desire to sit very close to her.
Not just holding her hand, but putting my other arm around her shoulder.
I felt her body growing colder and untouched since the discovery of her cancer. I wanted to sit as close as possible and to simply hold her.
It seemed a strange impulse and I knew it would look a bit peculiar to the family. It was strange to me, as well. The urge to hold her close was almost overpowering. I slid over a little more, closing the last gap between us…touching her body with mine.
I sat with her, no words left between us, hoping the family would not come
into the living room.
Ever so slowly, I began to feel her...
She was terrified of dying...

I knew nothing about her beliefs. Now was not the time to ask...
The feeling was almost palpable. I thought about what that feeling
must be like.
I no longer had those feelings about death.
Some years before, I had come very close to death myself.
During that experience, a strange thing had happened to me.
At my lowest point, I was suddenly released from all pain.
I felt myself being enveloped in an indescribable sweetness.
In the moments that followed, I KNEW that all was well and that there was something stronger than death.
All my fear simply dissolved in that atmosphere.

I wanted to tell Aunt Lorraine these things, but I couldn’t find a way to relate that story to her. These things are purely subjective anyway, I reasoned.
I struggled inside, wishing I could say something that would ease her fears.
In the end, all I could do was hold her wordlessly while my insides cried out
to her “There is nothing to be afraid of…if you only knew what I know…”
I visited a couple more times. Each time was the same...
The need to hold her, the desire to comfort her, the same wordless cry.
A few weeks later, she passed out of this life.
I didn’t attend the funeral. I felt that my part was finished.

One year later and several states away, I sat across the table from a psychic.
It was my first time…an experiment. I had often wondered how credible these people were.
As the reading began, I sat impassively while the woman related various bits of information. Nothing that she said struck me as being especially personal or helpful. For the most part it sounded like common information and advice that could be given to anyone. I wasn’t very impressed. As the lackluster session was coming to the end, the psychic hesitated,
saying “There is someone here that wants to speak to you.”
I was skeptical, thinking "Oh yeah? That's what they ALL say..."
She closed her eyes for a moment and then looked up at me saying,
“This message is from an older female who passed somewhat recently….
I want to say she seems to be related to your mother’s side of the family.
She is showing me something. She is holding her right side and her left knee. Does that mean anything to you?”

I was dumbstruck…Aunt Lorraine! She had held her right side due to the liver cancer and the left knee was for me. That was the knee that was in a cast!
I was too stunned to answer. I shook my head in disbelief. It was just not possible! I told her "No."

The psychic closed her eyes and lowered her head once more.
When she looked up again, she indicated that she still saw the same scene. She asked if I was sure I did not understand the reference.
I shook my head a second time, not wanting to feed her any information.
She bowed her head and checked inwardly. Then she asked me for the 3rd
and final time if I was sure I didn’t know what that meant.
By now, I was certain it was Aunt Lorraine, but I shook my head again,
this time too embarrassed to admit my lies.

The woman then said to me,” Well… Spirit is never wrong about these things. I will give you the message and perhaps you will understand it at a future time. The woman that has come to me says that she passed over a short while ago. She also tells me that you came to sit with her. But this was no ordinary sitting. You SAT with her...up close.
She tells me that she was terrified of dying, but in your sitting so close to her, you took the fear of dying from her body.
She has come to say thank you for what you did.”

I struggled to hold back tears, nodding my head in acknowledgment finally.
I admitted that I knew who this woman was and what the message meant.
The psychic understood.
Then she exclaimed in an excited voice:
“Wait a minute…she has one more thing to say to you!”
With that, she smiled conspiratorially and wagged her finger at me as if to scold me. “You sneaky little devil, you!”

Now THAT was my Aunt...

In a final note to this story...
That experience opened a world to me...
I realized that my thoughts were real and not idle conjecture or make-believe.
That prayer takes many forms.
That we are indeed 'surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.' Hebrews 12:1
That communication exists between this world and the unseen one.