Goodbye, Leola

Our family has experienced a sudden, devastating loss. My mother’s wonderful younger sister, Leola, passed away unexpectedly in her sleep yesterday. She was 72 years old. She’s the second of mom’s nine siblings to pass since 2013. 

I snapped this photo on Christmas Day two weeks ago at her daughter’s house. My mother is on the left. Aunt Faye is on the right and Aunt Leola is in the middle. Aunt Mae, the fourth of the “sisters” had just stepped out of the frame and I just kept on snapping photos, hoping to catch my mama, Priscilla, smiling. Aunt Leola was tickling her big sister, hoping to provoke a smile too. 
I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw her. I don’t even remember if I hugged her goodbye that day. 

But the radiant joy you see here sums up her entire life – and it’s always been the vision I have in my head when I think of my sweet aunt. 

She was spry, energetic, and one of the kindest creatures you’d ever meet. I don’t often admire someone for their religion but this is one lady who lived her personal Christian faith deep and wide – not through damning or shaming, but through songs and praise and smiles and laughter. She was the only person I’ve ever known who could touch me and say “You’re upset, honey let’s pray about it” and I fully believed that somehow, some way, a supreme being actually DID hear her. 

Her husband of almost fifty years, Olin, an avid Elvis fan, had passed away three years ago and she’s spent the past few years happily traveling back and forth between here and Oklahoma where three of her four grown children live. She was brave and headstrong, never fearing to hop in a car and travel the open road alone for thousands of miles. 

I never really knew when she’d be around. Mom called her a gypsy because she had a love of traveling! Sometimes she’d text me randomly. And just a few weeks back she dropped by my house one morning and spent a precious few hours with me chatting. 

She’d often pop in at my Mom’s to visit for a few minutes, grab a water, use the restroom or deliver some trinket that she thought my mother would like. Their visits always reminded me of the eternal bond close siblings share and how wonderful it is to have a sister to lean on at any stage of life. 

Last night, two of my mother’s brothers sped down here from Lexington to make sure they were with her in person when the news landed in her ears. And they sat on the couch side by side with her, holding her as she cried – over seventy years of shared family memories between them. 

And as I watch the closeness of my moms family this week and how they come together during times of crises and sadness, I know I would give every single thing I own to experience the bond of a brother or sister. 

Even if it means that some day I’d have to say goodbye.