One of my favorite aunts (pronounced aw’nt, in proper Massachusetts style please) died this week at 93 years of age. She was my father’s older sister – one of ten in a large half Irish, half Italian family from Boston. My Dad, Richard, 89 on August 4th, is still vigorous and dare I say it, alert and agile. He played 18 holes of golf this summer with my husband Mark who later confessed to my Mom and me, “I was just praying we didn’t end up with a Weekend at Bernie’s scenario.”
My aunt’s birth name was Asunta. But everyone called her Gertrude. How anyone thought Gertrude was a cuter nickname than Asunta is beyond me, but in 1918, perhaps Gert was the au courant version of today’s, “Madison”?
Auntie and I shared a special bond, acknowledged with a nod, a brief conversation and a twinkle in her Irish eyes.
In 2008, my cousin Roger threw auntie a surprise 90th birthday party at a yacht club on the South Shore of Massachusetts. We all questioned the advisability of surprising a 90 year old, but my cousin Tommy the priest (every Irish Italian family has one) had RSVP’d “yes” so Roger must have figured he was covered should the unthinkable happen. And we all hoped the luck of the Irish would stick for auntie, who was born on St. Paddy’s day.
Roger invited my family, including my daughters Mia, Gianna and Bella, who have autism. I was so pleased that they were included in a joyful family celebration! Why? You’d be surprised how frequently children with autism are left out of events across the nation, by family (loosely used as in, “that stinking pack of skunks is a family”) who can not be bothered to respect and include their a-typical nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. They deserve the malocchio.
We had a glorious time. Cousin Tommy blessed my girls and prayed for their healing. Cousins and aunts and friends of the family danced with the girls and welcomed them. They asked me pertinent questions about their autism that I was happy to answer. They cared. They were engaged with the girls.
They acted like family.
A few months later, auntie was visiting my parents, so we had a chance to talk one on one. She, like most people who meet my children, was taken aback at their level of impairment and their beauty. (The other night, a friend of a friend was over for dinner, and he cried a bit when he watched the girls, shaken by what autism has done to them. That happens frequently.)
My aunt lost a son in a tragedy many years ago, my cousin Stephen who was as handsome as Richard Gere. I said to her, “We’ve both grieved for our children, auntie. We have that in common.” She nodded her head and answered, “But we survived, Kim. We’re fighters. And you’re a wonderful Mom to your girls.” I was so glad we shared that moment.
My parents visited with auntie the day before she died. She took my Mom’s hand and said, “Take care of my Roger.” Auntie was 93, you can guess Roger’s age. Someday I’ll be saying, “Take care of my Mia, Gianna and Bella.
The name Asunta means ascension, as in the ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Motherhood and a mother’s love never ends. Not for auntie Asunta. Not for me. Not for you.
Yesterday was auntie’s funeral. The girls and I were there to pay our respects. And to look out for cousin Roger.
As my Gianna says, “We’re a family.”
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her book from Skyhorse Publishing, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa; A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism is available now. Visit her website at Kim Stagliano.