“I’m trying to convince myself that I really am 100,” said Aunt Helen today in a long and wonderfully intelligent conversation. “I feel like I did in my 70s and 80s — I’m not as agile as I was, but my mind is still thinking.”
Today is Aunt Helen’s actual birthday. Last weekend, 49 of her family joined her for a big, early birthday party. Helen felt very satisfied with the celebration. “There was nothing rushed or hurried,” she explained, and after more conversation about who was there (including my brother Mike Healy and sister-in-law Sarah), she said, “I keep thinking about the number of people who have do so much for me.”
Helen feels a century of thanks, including to her late husband, Buren Bonine. They were married for 64 years, many of which they worked together on the ranch in Montana and then at the drug store they owned in Miles City, Montana. (Buren was a pharmacist.) Today she was reminscing about how they understood each other so well they didn’t even need to say anything. One look and they’d know what the other was thinking.
We also talked a lot about her older sister, Eileen, who I suddenly realized a few days ago, died the day after Helen’s 93rd birthday. Aunt Eileen not only was her closest friend, but she was her bulwark.
Except, it turns out, I did know about the grieving coincidence. Aunt Helen asked if I remembered the year when Eileen died. I looked it up in my iCal. “2010,” I said, and began to read my notes about what happened. Aunt Eileen died shortly after midnight, just after her younger sister’s birthday ended. There were more details. I read and we talked.
Our conversation feels miraculous. To have someone in your parents’ generation, someone you love and who has known you always, still be in your life…there simply isn’t enough gratitude in the universe to marvel and appreciate this gift.
I have no photos of Aunt Helen right now, but I’ll take some next month and post them when I go home to Wyoming.