Monday, March 23, 2009

Aunt Ruthie Passed Away

Maya's great great Aunt Ruthie passed away last night at 11 p.m. after a battle with cancer. Aunt Ruthie was my daughter's great grandmother's sister. She was a thin woman with long black hair.  She was Native American, of the Lenni Lenape tribe that lived along the Delaware River crossing from New Jersey into Pennsylvania.  I only met Aunt Ruthie a year ago. I tried a few times to get a good photo of her alone and one of her with Maya.  But I wasn't able to. I didn't want to be intrusive and force her to pose, as I was only just getting to know Maya's biological family. I assumed I could get another picture of Maya with Aunt Ruthie at a later time. That time never came.

The last time we saw Aunt Ruthie, her long black hair was gone. It had been sheared off after falling out from chemo-therapy. She was more thin than ever, though still looking like royalty with her head held high and her smooth tanned skin. She slowly moved in soft slippers across the sidewalk from the car. She was just coming home from the hospital, presumably to spend her last days at home. But she managed a smile and a hug for me and Maya. Maya kissed and hugged her as only Maya can do. I worried we would hurt her frail body by hugging too hard and told her she looked beautiful. We left her Valentine's Day card and gift in the house. The card had a photo of Maya kissing the mirror. The gift was a small wall hanging that declared Love Endures All Things; Love Never Ends. From Corinthians. I hope that she understood that our love for her will never end.

I owe a lot to Aunt Ruthie. Aunt Ruthie and her sister Virginia, Maya's Nanny, are the matriarchs of Nikki's family. Virginia was always very supportive of my adopting Maya and, I believe, helped Maya's Mama Nikki come to the acceptance that Maya would do well in my family. But still, for me, was the question of whether I would be accepted into Nikki's family. Would the family not resent me? After all, I ended up with the beautiful baby. Their beautiful baby. Would they think I was a snooty lawyer from New York with whom they could have nothing in common? Would they accept my presence coldly, merely to visit with their daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter and niece?   Or is it possible that they might accept me as the person I am, even under these awkward circumstances?

Aunt Ruthie helped pave the way for my acceptance. I had tried to impress upon her how important family was to Tim and me. I tried to show her that it was important for Tim and me to make our relationship with them a good one. And to let her know that I had no intention of taking their baby from them. I told Aunt Ruthie that I believed we could make our unique family situation work because we all loved Maya. I gave out my cell phone number freely and sent photos and small gifts for holidays and birthdays as often as I could. She must have believed me. I was thrilled to hear from Virginia that Ruthie liked me and said, "She's just like one of us!"

I'll never know what she meant by claiming I was "just like one of" her family. I'll never get the chance to ask. Nor will I ever get the chance to ask her about her history --about my daughter's history -- of being Lenni Lenape. Nor will I ever get to take that photo of her smiling at me and Maya. But I will forever hold Aunt Ruthie dear to my heart. I promise to teach Maya to honor her legacy. And I pray that, in her passing, she has found peace.

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