This week, the Big E, the monkey boys and I took a nice four day vacation to Chicago. The five plus hour drive was well worth the scenery. The plan was to enjoy every nano-second. From the visit to Lego Discovery Center to the trip into town for a day at Navy Pier. It was supposed to be a heavenly (and well-deserved) vacation for this family.
And so it began that way. Until breakfast at our hotel on day two of the trip. The day our boys have been dreaming of for two years now - a day in Lego Discovery Center. That's when the texts, phone calls and emails starting bombarding my cell phone and Facebook page. I knew it could only be bad news when ALL of my maternal cousins were telling me to call them. Picked a cousin from the list and dialed her cell. I knew what she was going to tell me but I didn't want to hear it.
"Aunt Phyllis passed away very early this morning." ~~Dead silence ~~ "Somehow I knew it, " I told her.
At that very minute, my heart shattered into a billion pieces. My aunt, my God Mother and most importantly my friend had been taken from us all too soon. No more suffering with her leg problems, no more crying, no more aching for relief from the disease plaguing her body. But even with all that in mind, I didn't want it to be true.
And then the worst of all thoughts hit me. My Mom? Oh my God! Did anyone call my Mom? Please God, don't let me be the one to have to tell her that her baby sister has died. I'd rather die myself than to break the news to her. It will break her heart. Unfortunately for me, my cousin didn't know if anyone contacted my Mom yet.
After hanging up the phone with Cecilia, I slowly, hesitantly, dialed my Mom's number. Busy signal. So I tried her cell. It was answered on the second ring. After the pleasantries we always exchange, it was time to ask. "Did you get any calls from Florida?", I asked while trying to brace myself for the possibility of breaking the news. "Yes, I did and I guess you did too." And with that I exploded in tears. I couldn't breathe, my body shaking with the pain of a heart ache that nothing on this Earth could heal. Mom explained what happened and it just wouldn't set in. "Why? Why didn't God heal her? Why did He have to take her pain away this way? Why? Why? Why?"
My Mom and I talked for a long time and then she said to me "I'm so glad you weren't mad at each other anymore. You keeping in touch with her made her happy." Yes, Aunt Phyllis and I had our fair share of arguments. We are both Aries babies and have stubborn streaks a mile long. But we always said we're sorry and we always put the bad times where they belonged, in the past never to be brought up again. And we always told each other like it was. We sugar coated nothing. But I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Our fights brought us closer and made us understand each other more. For that I am grateful.
And then during my conversation with my Mom, something told my brain what the date was... August 21st. One week until Uncle Zig's birthday. God saw fit to bring Aunt Phyllis home one week before her true love's birthday. Uncle Zig was smiling that day knowing his bride was coming to Heaven to be with him after three years apart. How befitting!
Suddenly it all sank in. I'll never get to hear her laugh again, or get a text from her with a picture of her latest creation whether it was crocheted or sewn. I'll never hear her say "I just dont get this Face Page stuff. You're gonna have to tell me again." No more conversations about all of i
I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Over and over again that day in talking with several of my cousins, we sobbed. And then we laughed hard remembering all of the great and crazy times we had with her.
Because we live in Michigan and she in Florida, she never met my sons. But everywhere I look around my house I see her. The boys know who she is and how important she is to me and what a pivotal role she played in my life and in a round about way in theirs too.
She's here all around us. In the afghan that she helped cross stitch with my Grandmother, in the quilts she made for my children, in jewelry she gave me. I will never lose sight of her.
She will be engraved forever in my memories and in my heart. I'll never forget the 18 Summers spent at 174 Pleasant St., Ronkonkoma, New York. Or the trips to the Smithtown Mall walking thru the parking lot, holding hands (even at age 18) singing on the top of our lungs:
Aunt Phyllis: "I'm the Big Phyllis!"
Me: "And I am the little Phyllis!"
Lord how we made my Mom crazy with that!! Every single time we went to the Mall, THAT was our tune! Didn't care who heard us or thought we were completely insane.
She used to tell me that I was her practice baby. What an honor that was to have. And I wouldn't trade that for the World!
On my sixth birthday, pregnant and at full term with her oldest child, she made me the most amazing bunny-shaped birthday cake. It was the birthday I remember the clearest. The next day she gave birth to my cousin, Eva Marie, one of the best gifts I ever received. (Six years later, she gave me another of my best gifts, her son Richard.)
When Uncle Zig, the kids and she moved to Philadelphia, I was head over heals ecstatic! They were finally in MY town. I didn't have to wait for holidays or Summer to see her and spend time with her or my cousins! We spent many a night around her kitchen table eating her World Famous Lasagna and Baked Ziti. (She was part Italian after all!)
When she moved to Florida, I cried. I didn't want her to leave, but knew she had to. It was for the best. My first post high school Summer of working, I hopped a plane for a two week visit. By then I hadn't seen her or Uncle Zig (who was a SUPER COOL DUDE!) for more than a year. I think I gave her the biggest hug ever the day I arrived! And I had the privlege to go a few more times and stay in her home.
The most precious and memorable trip to Florida took place in May 2002, the Spring after the birth and death of my first child. Of all the family members I wanted to share Samatha's memory book with, she was the most important person! We spent quite a long time going through each photo. She hugged the book as tightly as she would have hugged my baby girl. And she let me cry and get out all the heart ache I had been holding in. She instinctively knew that I needed her at that moment and she gave me her all. I will be eternally grateful for that love.
That was just who Phyllis Theresa Petty Schnell Ekloff was... a Giver. Giver of unconditional love, kindness, smiles, shoulders to lean on, a sympathetic ear to listen when you needed it. A great giver of tremendously loving hugs, sweet kisses, gigantic belly laughs and tons of smiles. A talented seamstress, quilter, chrocheter, knitter. You name it, she could do it. And she shared her talents with each and every person she ever met. So many people in the world have a little piece of the Big Phyllis, but I'm so glad I got a bigger piece than most!
Until we meet again Auntie, I'll love you for always, I'll like you forever. As long as I'm living MY Big Phyllis you'll be! xoxoxo