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My Auntie

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On the eve of a quiet, cold, autumn night, the Earth lost one if its best. In the comfort of her own home, own bed, Charlene S., my great aunt, acceptingly lost her long and grueling fight of lung cancer. Auntie, the only name I ever remember calling her, was, and quite possibly still is the greatest person I have ever known. I may be biased because she was family, but hundreds of other people would back me up on this.

Auntie was a grade school teacher for twenty years of her life. Even though all teachers say this, Auntie really did teach for her love of children, and not at all for the money. As for money, Auntie didn’t really need it. Her husband, my Uncle Lenny, inherited the family a long lasting family business, and they were basically set for life when the two wed at age seventeen. However, Auntie and Uncle never spent their money foolishly. Auntie played a big role in her church and donated a lot of her wealth to charity. She could have lived in a lavish mansion, yet reserved to living in a conservative house near her children and family. Among the numerous great contributions she made, the one she is best admired for is her art. Charlene Siepka was an amazing artist. She loved painting portraits of her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Her stuff was good, really good. She was once approached by a man who saw a piece of her art and offered her to become an employed artist. She refused. She painted for her family, and herself. It was not something she needed to do, she wanted to. Her art was a way for her to express herself. One day while my sister, little cousin, and I were sitting at the dinning room table with her on Christmas at her house, my little three-year-old cousin asked her, “Where do you imagine your at when your painting? ‘Cuz my art teacher told us that we could live in a fantasy world when we are painting and go wherever we want.” My aunt confidently and quickly replied, “Darling, I live in my fantasy world.”

Even as she is gone now, those words still ring in my head. She loved every part of her life. For my Auntie, her glass was always half full. She never, once had a single regret in her life, except for one, one that cost her life. Junior year of high school, with all of her friends, I the back of The Dairy Queen, Charlene picked up her very first cigarette, and never put one down. That day, she recalls, was her very first, very last, and only regret in life. She didn’t know it at the time, but after forty years of being a smoker, and a heavy one at that, my Auntie would be diagnosed with the worst type of Emphysema out there. By age sixty, she was hooked up to an oxygen machine for twelve hours each day. She was also confined to a wheel chair to not only help lug around her air tanks, but allow her to move, considered that a mere five stops would leave her wheezing uncontrollably. So, instead she resorted to rolling on wheels for means of transportation. Now, one would thing that the ailments she had would slow a person down, However, my Auntie’s disease almost seemed to speed her up. She loved everyday she was given, and showed it. Every time I was with her, we would have long talks for hours on end. Anybody could tell her anything. The best quality in my aunt was that she was a great listener. She did her fair share of talking as well; however, everything that came out of her mouth had a purpose and a message. She constantly warned us to never, ever, ever pick up a cigarette, so we wouldn’t have to be like her. And since, I never have, and never will. Her statement is very ironic; however, because if there is one person that I would ever want to be like, have half the love she had for life, for others, for herself, it would be her. My entire life of knowing her and hundreds of talks I had with her, she never, not even once, complained of her illness. She had put herself into the situation, could have stopped, and just didn’t. It was a mistake she had to live with for the rest of her life, and she did, without complain, until the night of October 12, 2004, when an absolute devastation slapped our entire family in the face, that Charlene Siepka had quietly and peacefully died in her sleep.

Her funeral was The hardest thing of my life. Seeing my Auntie confined to a small casket, I could not ever recognize her. She did not have any tubes coming out of her nose, or a wheelchair underneath her, but the one thing that I noticed the most that was missing, was her smile. In the worst of times, my Auntie always kept smiling. The ones that knew her the most knew that she was secretly struggling each day, and was in intense pain, but she never showed it. That is the thing I most admire about her. She did not want people to pity her, and they didn’t. The amazing quality about her, is that she had to ability to talk to a person, and make them forget that she was hooked up to machines, or slumped in a wheelchair.

At her funeral, hundreds of people showed up, weeping. Not only did family attend, but some of her old students as well. If a person takes the time to attend their fifth grade teacher’s funeral, that teacher must have been a pretty special person. The only thing that leaves me comforted, is the fact that my Auntie is no longer struggling, or in pain. She can finally put down her shield of toughness, and walk and breathe with no effort. My Auntie will never be forgotten, and she will forever be in my heart. The world would be such a better place if more people like her walked around. It’s nice to imagine.





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