I’ve searched this entire week for peace. I know that the normal process of getting older is losing people that you love dearly. But my Aunt Donna was one of the most influential people in my life, from the time I was born. I feel like there’s a giant hole in the world now. She was my protector, my savior, my discipline, my motivator, my confidence. She taught me to love photography and cameras, my love of crafting and making shit with my hands…and she was the funniest person in my life.
She ran a beauty salon out of our house. I was an orphan and so were my 2 siblings. We were orphaned frequently, sometimes my mom would just leave us in apartments and call my Aunt Donna to “come get us, she was leaving.” Aunt Donna would drive hours, like Steve McQueen in a Dodge Caravan to save us…
She put me in school, fixed my hair, made me pose for pictures and told me to be confident:
“Get out there in your swimming suit, don’t let them stop you. I’m gonna get my fat ass out there! I don’t care what anybody thinks.”
She became a girl scout troop leader because I needed one. She was THE BEST girl scout troop leader there ever was…she had a giant van for all of her felt and glitter, she took us on amazing trips and taught us to make everything. I was so proud to call her my aunt. When I was drowning, she saved me—from the shore. When I was smart-mouthing, she chased me down. I was young and thought she was too big to catch me, but she defied her size in every way. She could outrun me at 12. She could out-swim me my whole life.
When my brother needed her, she saved him, repeatedly.
The day my family broke apart forever — it was Aunt Donna that saved my sister from foster care. She dropped everything and ran to fight to keep my sister in the family. I always looked up to her and not just because she was radiant with the world’s perfect tan and not one hair was ever out of place. I looked up to her because she had a heart of gold and a bitingly funny sense of humor. Because she cared about everyone, but with her charismatic gruff exterior.
She gathered the family around her table like it was her job. She brought happiness into my life every time I saw her…and that is why I feel so terribly guilty for not being there to lay her to rest today. She was always there for me. Always.
But I’ve battled my demons all week, the same demons that I was trapped with as a child in this 40 year battle—my mom and my grandma. The four of us have gone around this circle for so long. I had to end it here. My mom has ruined every funeral she’s ever attended and even some that she didn’t attend…I absolutely could not risk being the reason for a scene at my Aunt Donna’s. I had to give my family the respect she deserves. All she ever wanted for me was to get out of that bullshit…So I will say goodbye to her in my own way. But in a way that she would appreciate, working on a crazy craft building set for my job. That’s the girl scout she made…
I love you so much, Aunt Donna. You are the fabric of every part of who I am.
Thank you for always saving me and for teaching me how to use a camera. It’s sooooo much of the person behind the lens. Thanks for lighting my life.
**This is one of my favorite moments. Clearly my exposure was off, but it’s still one of my favorite memories. Her photo and mine, with Uncle D over my shoulder. Forever.