Tribute to Purpose and Passion

Aunty Kay has been my role model and inspiration, learning to live a life of purpose and passion, and how purpose will change over a lifetime, but passion can endure.

Becoming a nurse was in her DNA.  She tells the story (not to be read to young children) of castrating the mean farm tom cat while her sisters held him down.  She was hired immediately out of nurse’s training to stand beside a pioneer in heart surgery, Dr. John Grow.  “He knew I loved what I did and was a hard worker”, she shares.  Starting in World War II, she then worked alongside him for forty seven years.  The stories of heart surgeries were nothing short of miraculous.  Retiring from the surgery floor, she continued to work with him for another five years overseeing other nurses and often lamenting – “they just don’t nurse the way we used to!”  When she went to apply for Social Security, she was tickled and amused to hear them say “We have never seen anyone work for the same company for so long”.  She loved what she did and respected who she worked for.

Family is important to her.  With 12 siblings, she is an Aunt to 76, and God-mother to many of them.  She and my Uncle Jack never had children, so my sister, brother and I were the fortunate recipients of their time and attention. Our youth was spent eating Sunday dinners, creating crafts, visiting the summer cabin, and winter ice-skating.   How she fit in all the cooking, entertaining with friends, and spending time with us into her busy work schedule amazes me to this day!  I have the red leather step-stool high chair that I sat in as a child eating her homemade chicken soup when I was sick.  The same high chair my daughter sat in when Kay would lovingly spoil her, giving me time off as a young single mom.

She rewired into passionate volunteer life after Uncle Jack and Dr. Grow passed away.  She spent countless hours restyling baby-dolls for the Salvation Army Christmas Doll Tea.  She “adopted” at risk youth through the ColoradoChristianHome to be their friend and encourage them when those who should have been there for them couldn’t be.  They called her Aunty Kay too, and I know she must have baked a thousand cookies over the years!

For her 80th birthday, she wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.  We were apprehensive and didn’t think the parachuting company would let her.  When she passed the health questionnaire, I decided I couldn’t let her do it without me.  We strapped ourselves to a couple of cute guys and made the plunge.  She landed with a smile on her face from ear to ear saying “that is something I have always wanted to do and was more exciting than open-heart surgery!”  In contrast, it took a while for my heart to settle back into a normal rhythm.

Almost 92, her passion and purpose have aged like good wine, having tremendous depth and full of flavor.  We thought once she stopped volunteering that she would lose her passion for living. We were wrong.  Her room at the assisted living facility is now her “house” filled with pictures of loved ones.  Her wheelchair is her “car” which she maneuvers with a passionate pull on the railings down the hall.  She goes to “work” everyday at the various activities Dorothy lovingly escorts her to.

As dementia consumes her world, her purpose has become to give and receive love, and she does it passionately.  She reaches out to give a loving pat to the “older people” at meal time.  She kindly thanks those who help her, even if she can’t remember their names.  She smiles and grasps at fragmented thoughts.  We are deeply blessed to spend time with her, graciously loving her for where she is at in the moment.  I hold her hand, look at pictures, and tell her I love her.  She is living a life without regrets – I pray I can do the same.

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