Aunty Rose was always my favorite relative. She was just fourteen months older than my mom, and the two of them were unusually, emotionally close. A friend of theirs once described them as ‘twin souls.’
Though Aunty Rose had been happily married for many years, she had not been blessed with children of her own. However, her many nieces and nephews loved her deeply and considered her their own. She lived in a faraway city, worked at a challenging job, and could visit us only for the two fleeting weeks of her annual vacation. I counted the days until she’d arrive, with the time, like taffy, stretching out interminably. How I cherished every precious moment of her visit, savoring them like the sweet rose fragrance of her perfume.
Aunty Rose never had much money and used to tell us that she wished she could be our Lady Bountiful, bestowing generous gifts upon us all. I was too young to tell her then that all I wished for was her presence, not her presents.
I remember once sewing a heart-shaped red velvet pincushion for her, even though I usually found sewing a chore, as a token of my love for her.
Her brief vacation would fly by far too quickly and then she had to leave us again for another endless year. We kept in touch by writing letters to each other, and sometimes I’d receive a small notebook from her, its pastel colored pages scented with her love.
Then my family moved much further – an entire ocean away – but still our letters continued to fly regularly back and forth. Each year I sent her a birthday card with a picture of the most beautiful rose I could find.
So the years went by. After Aunty Rose’s beloved husband died, she retired from the job she’d never liked and came to live with her two oldest sisters.
When I got married, my wedding photos crossed the ocean between us, and Aunty Rose received them with great joy. In time, we had three little boys, and Aunty Rose adored hearing all about the antics of her great-nephews. I confessed to her that, as dearly as I loved my active boys, I’d be thrilled to have a little girl next time round.
Then one day we received a letter from my Aunt Jean with the terrifying news that Aunty Rose had been hospitalized with a serious heart condition. Then something even more devastating happened much closer to home. One morning, Mom suddenly collapsed with a massive brain hemorrhage. Rushed to the hospital, she survived but the stroke left her paralyzed along her entire right side. Mom could smile with only the left side of her mouth, unable to speak more than a few words at a time.
Dazed, we returned to her apartment to discover a telegram with the sorrowful news that Aunty Rose had passed away. When we recovered from the initial shock, we realized that, with the time difference, Mom had her stroke exactly one hour after her beloved sister left this world.
I remembered her telling us once long ago how much she adored her sister.
“I’d give my right arm for Rosie,” she’d said.
Now, in a very real sense, she had.
Part of Mom wanted to leave together with her dearest sister but the love she had for us, her children, kept the other part of her anchored here.
Aunty Rose died in early March. Six months later I was expecting our fourth child. Mom, sitting in her wheelchair and unable to speak much, was the first person to realize that another grandchild was on the way.
My husband and I agreed that if this baby were to be our long-awaited daughter, she’d be named in memory of my beloved aunt.
Our lovely little girl was born in early June. The flower for that month is a rose. Our daughter was named Shoshana, which means ‘rose’ in Hebrew.
A few days after I came home, I found the sad letter from Aunt Jean which described the details of Aunty Rose’s death. I couldn’t bear to throw that letter away and now felt compelled to read it again, gasping as I read.
Aunty Rose had left this world on a Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. – the exact day of the week and precise time of day that our dear little Shoshana was born!
Holding my cherished baby daughter in my arms, I felt as if Aunty Rose had sent me a special message of her love. The distance between us may have grown, but the connection was still good.