Darkside of the sun: My aunt’s gift

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan
BN Columnist
As she reached out to me, her tented, empty hand suspended over mine, no word she uttered clarified into human understanding. But then, it wasn’t a word I was being given.
My aunt, the nonagenarian I call my family’s “inspirational elder,” lay crookedly on the hospital bed, as if broken. But she was not broken. The day before, she had suffered a serious heart attack. Around her whirred and clicked the electronic machines to which she has been allergic all of her long life. Because of her allergies to food, animals and everything up to and including aluminum and most medications, my aunt spent her childhood reading in her room, listening to music and watching enviously as her two sisters played outside games. But she was no hermit and no invalid. Her will and her determination and her dogged sense of duty and correctness, and her desire to do good, won her a wide influence in her community, as well as a loyal circle of friends.
On Saturday, a few hours after her episode, she had been far more lucid. She had apologized to the nurses, the doctor, the staff, to me, and to her aide, Eileen from the wonderful Gorham home health company, Home Instead. Apologized for inconveniencing us. But she also made sure we called every name in her address book, so her friends could say goodbye to her, and she to them. My sister, Kathy, and I got in touch with most of them, and Aunt Ellie greeted and was able to thank many.
She knew the Lake Region. Her family owned a camp in Raymond. Aunt Ellie was a self-professed longtime “fan” of The Bridgton News. Her late husband, the gentleman and scholar, Donald K. Saunders, a cousin to the Saunders family of Bridgton, was born in Sandy Creek near the old narrow gauge railroad tracks. An avid reader, Eleanor Conant Saunders was a historian and factotum of the Westbrook Historical Society, and she contributed to the societies in Waterford and Bridgton. Feisty and forthright, when she determined that something be done, it was going to get done, and done right. She saw no point in halfway. She exhibited self-discipline and integrity and through the pains and grief of her final years, she showed grit and dignity. And humor, as well. This past summer, when my brother Bob and I visited, she was in fine form. It’s a cliché, but I truly hadn’t laughed so hard in years. She loves her family and we love her, and that means we all have stories to tell about each other. Like the time more than half a century ago, when I almost ran her over with a runaway tractor. “Get out of my way, you 89-year-old woman!” I called, mercilessly. She ran quite swiftly then, for a reader.
As I write this, my aunt is in hospice care — but she is back home in Westbrook, at the old house set above the autumn-brown meadows and the dark Presumpscot River. She is surrounded by people, who care about her. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she still attempts to perform the rehab neck and leg exercises assigned her two and three and five years ago, tasks set her to cope with the infirmities of age and trauma.
What was it my aunt handed me that Sunday afternoon in the hospital, I wonder? I probably never will know. A phantom key or a magic coin, perhaps? Or might it have been some symbolical task that she hoped that I might complete for her? Who knows, she may have been passing along the secret of life, or the essence of the always-living-the-moment, or the wink of eternity.
Whatever my Aunt Ellie pressed on me, I am glad that I had the good sense to accept it, and to thank her, and to store whatever it was carefully in my pocket. I have her gift yet. And because I do not choose to interrogate too closely its nature and meaning, I suspect that her final gift to me will be all the more lasting and precious.

Editor's note: It was with great sympathy that The News learned this week that Mike's aunt, Eleanor Saunders, passed away. Her obituary appears on the website. Our condolences to Mike and his family.

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