Aunt Henrietta

Henrietta (This picture captures my memory of her perfectly.)

Aunt Henrietta (This picture captures my memory of her perfectly.)

Within an hour of Lulu’s birth, on the other side of the country, my dear Aunt Henrietta passed. My mother said that Henrietta waited until she heard that Lulu had arrived and then she let herself go. Henia (affectionate Polish version of her name) had been diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer about a year earlier.

At 87, except for dental visits, I don’t think Henia ever went to a doctor. She never married. For 40 years, my aunt was employed as a seamstress for a clothing manufacturer. She retired from that job to take care of her ailing mother, and when her mother died, she worked for several years helping developmentally challenged individuals. She never managed a checkbook – preferred paying in cash (a practice that made me cringe when I would take her shopping in her later years; she looked so vulnerable). With her modest salary, she always paid her own way, saved some, and even lent money to my parents to buy our house. At her death, she had more than enough to cover arrangements for her funeral.

Henrietta was the third of six daughters in my mother’s family. All six daughters had some special artistic talent. For Henia, it was all things needle and thread. She sewed Vogue patterns perfectly. It was skirts and blouses during the week, but on Sundays and special occasions, her fine and often hand-made clothing came out. I remember feeling so proud of how lovely she looked at church. She also sewed for my sister and I – a big help to our family.  I’m grateful to own many of her heirloom tatted handkerchieves. I took for granted her ability to mend a rip, tear, or pull until invisible.

Her parents, my grandparents, were Polish immigrants who spoke little English. Their social and faith life intertwined in a Polish church community, where they could pray in their own language and find comfort in their familiar culture. That church remained Henrietta’s second home. She sang in the choir for 60 years, attended mass daily when she could, and never missed a Sunday for most of her life. An example of complete humility, my Aunt Henrietta would be shocked to know how much she touched and affected the lives of those around her.  We are so fortunate that God gave her to our family.

The evening of January 5th, my sister, Alyce, and I were texting back and forth. Alyce was reporting on Henrietta’s leaving, and I was sharing updates on Lulu’s coming. I still don’t quite understand why both events happened simultaneously, but in a way, the duplicity brought my east coast family to Lulu’s birth and me to Henrietta’s deathbed. Thanks to my sister, I knew when family arrived at my aunt’s bedside, and how each was handling the event – a great comfort and relief. I texted progress of my daughter’s last stage of labor, and received encouragement and joy back from those gathered (who would not have been together otherwise). We think that my aunt heard family talking about Lulu’s arrival, and then she drifted away. Alyce, a hospice nurse, says hearing is the last to go.

You would have loved my Aunt Henrietta. Her gift was to do exactly what she needed to do to take care of herself and those around her everyday until she couldn’t anymore. That example is our inheritance. I pray that I am like her.

Category: Thoughts on Life 7 comments »

7 Responses to “Aunt Henrietta”

  1. Dixie

    How beautifully written. I was able to get a much better feel for the aunt I’ve heard you speak of so often, by reading what you wrote here. Your aunt was gifted in taking care of herself and those around her, keeping true to her faith and family. Attributes you also possess. I suppose we all know Henrietta a bit, just in knowing you.
    Take care.

  2. Stefanie

    Way cool entry, Susie. Your Henia came to life in your words. Be well, beaming Grandma! xx

  3. Emily

    Beautiful, Mom. I know it was a challenge for you to find the right words for this one – you did it. I’m going to print this for Lulu’s baby book…

  4. Sue E.

    Sue, Such a beautiful tribute to your Aunt. I was trying to understand that realm of emotions you were going through that day. Thank you for sharing it in your awesome writing. As I’ve told you, I do think Lulu has a special guardian angel!
    What a legacy you are leaving for your children & grandchildren with your beautiful writings!

  5. Patrice Levesque

    Lovely and touching story about a lovely lady.

  6. Mary Ellen

    Beautiful. I feel lucky to read your Thoughts on Life and to be connected, even remotely, to a beautiful family like yours.

  7. Sue B

    I do believe you have many of your aunt Henia’s wonderful qualities.
    So sorry for your loss and in the same breath congratulations for the wonderful “little lives” that have arrived into your life!

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