There’s something about being with kids that makes everything better. At least for me. They make me laugh, they make me smile, they say the most interesting things. Today, I colored Easter eggs with my two nieces. No matter how cheerful I am, Joella, the oldest, has this quality of always wanting to make me feel better. It’s sort of like ever since Rick died, she has considered me sick and wants to do what she can to make me well again.
To her, I am Auntie A (Aunt Arielle is kind of a mouthful for little ones) – formerly of Auntie A & Uncle Rick, a duo, an entity of two. She understands that something happened to that entity a while back and so in her mind, I think she realized my house, my table, my bed, and my life were somewhat emptier.
Rick died back in May of 2014. So last summer, as my world was very slowly turning to color once more, my (then-3-year-old, now 4-year-old) niece Joella had a new toy phone. One afternoon, she kept asking people to make pretend phone calls. Outside in the sun of my parents’ backyard, her little blond head turning from side to side in thought, Joella handed me the pink phone. “Now call Uncle Rick,” she said.
After the moment where my only 2-months-in broken heart broke a little more, I realized that a toy phone can call anyone we desire. So I took the phone and I called Rick. I called Rick in Bliss, which is what he always called life after death. Joella cocked her head to the side, smiling. She knew Rick was gone. She didn’t understand the concept of death, but she knew she couldn’t see her uncle anymore. Joella urging me to call Rick was her way of trying to make me feel better. I remember how she said, “Now call Juice, but Juice is at home,” indicating that she knew my cat was at home, but sadly Rick was not.
I remember Joella’s mom telling me how Joella kept a picture of Rick next to her bed and would talk to him. It made me smile so much when she told me that Joella was explaining Uncle Rick to her baby sister Harriette.
I can see as time marches on that Joella knows I’m happy and okay now. She uses her usual greeting for me of “Hey, You!” and we draw pictures or build things or she sings for me.
I got the sense the other day that she was feeling me out – trying as always to “make me feel better,” but also trying to get a handle on my current state of mind these days. On Tuesday, Joella called me just to say hi and then out of the blue said, “Don’t worry, Auntie A, I think Uncle Rick will come back to this world.”
For a minute, I was stunned, but I didn’t say I wished he would, I didn’t say that I was sad without him, and I didn’t get upset. Because I didn’t feel that way. And I think that’s really what Joella was listening for. So instead, my niece just sensed my genuine happiness, my healed heart, and my praise of her compassion.
My mom had been telling Joella about her art show at Bethlehem’s Twisted Olive and Joella said that if I was going to be there, that maybe Uncle Rick would go too. After some explanation from my mom, that was Joella’s train of thought when she called me that night.
I give this kid a lot of credit. I feel strongly that when she sees me, she is thinking to herself that Auntie A is supposed to be part of something more, deserving to be part of a pair of some kind, that Auntie A is just too good to be alone. Last night was the art show and I was there by myself. I know my niece could see me there, smiling and alive in my pretty dress, lots of hope in my heart spilling over into all the conversations I had with people. Joella gave me a big hug and a “Hey, You!” She did not ask about Uncle Rick. She sees the change in me and she knows now that I’m more than okay just being Auntie A… and that one day I’ll be part of an entity of two again, happier than ever.