Valuing the simple things

by Anna Blanch on September 11, 2012

Early this morning, my Great Aunt Olwyn passed away. She was an incredibly strong woman. I am feeling for her husband, my Great Uncle Jim, and her brother, my grandfather. My sisters mean the world to me – and my grandfather will miss his sister intensely. I originally wrote this meditation in 2008 – my heart can’t take writing something else right now, it’s been a rough week.


My Aunt Olwyn is a quiet, but firm, woman. She has a softness about her that belies her great physical suffering. Maybe this is what happens when people are living with the knowledge that their dying is imminent as it has been for Aunt Olwyn for some time now. She is not a particularly spiritual person, at least not verbally or loudly. But, she lives intentionally losing no opportunity to share, to leave a legacy of love.

For as long as I can remember, Aunty Olwyn’s beautiful, original works of embroidery have hung on the walls of the homes of my mother’s family. It genuinely surprised me to find out that my great aunt had only begun to learn this art on her retirement. For weddings, new babies, and anniversaries, a beautiful framed piece is given bearing a unique motif – intertwined roses that are my grandmother’s favourite flower for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, rings to celebrate my sister and brother in law’s wedding.

Over the last few years, since Aunt Olwyn received her diagnosis she has systematically been working on pieces – in handmade frames crafted by her husband, Jim – for all of her great nieces and nephews. For me, Olwyn created a young woman in an early 1900’s style long purple dress throwing a cricket ball to a small dog. She explained that this picture encapsulated many of the qualities she saw in me: the conservative formality of my dress (though I assure you I am not given to dressing in corsets and hooped skirts), my propensity for, and enjoyment in, sport (including Cricket) and my playfulness. But she has often told me, in a way that tells me it is what she is most proud of, the features of the face of the young woman are mine. The girls face is very finely stitched and so I am not sure that I can see it, but it means a great deal to me that Olwyn tried.

Aunty Olwyn is not a sentimental woman, though this may otherwise seem contrary to my portrait and she is not always cheerful, but she is stoic. Olwyn suffers from agonising pain that only those who understand what it is like to endure pain that comes from a disease attacking your very bones can understand. She has often encouraged me, gently chiding, as she looks into my eyes (which know physical pain) that I will be able to endure no matter what. Great suffering leads in some to great endurance, and in less still to great perseverance and hope. But this hope is not in placing yourself or your physical abilities as the foundation of your identity. She is a woman who valued the simple things.

From our elders and all those who have come before us, living or passed on, we learn many lessons and begin to be able to understanding our familial heritage. These are opportunities not to be missed.

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  • JT Adamson

    My deepest sympathies.  Loss is never simple or easy, even when it ends a long period of suffering.
    I pray for you this evening as you and your family work through the days ahead.

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