You Should Be Here…

Deep Thoughts 4 Comments

Growing up, Uncle Doug was everyone’s favorite uncle. Decades later, it’s probably safe to say he’s the most favorite living Hayden. Feel free to argue with me, fam, but you’re probably wrong.

Uncle Doug has always had boundless energy, a contagious laugh, a cheesy sense of humor, sharp intellect, and a deep and abiding love for his family. Needless to say, he has always been a catch.

In the early 90s, Genene caught him! The small town tenacious Nebraska beauty with the voice of God’s most favored angel would become my aunt.

So many of my “growing up” years revolve around Doug and Genene’s life:

I remember my cousin Marky being so in love with her. He was maybe 6. He would sneak around corners to get a peek at her, and when she noticed him creepin’ he would turn bright red and dart away.

To be honest, we were all smitten with her. She smiled so easily and she wasn’t afraid to get us back in line if we got ornery (I mean, not me, but those other cousins).

I remember sitting in my Grama Hayden’s living room while Aunt Genene was deciding what to eat at their rehearsal dinner. She settled on Chicken Cordon Bleu and peas.

“Peas?!” I exclaimed. “Ew.”

She replied, “Well, you don’t have to eat them then, do you?”

I’m sure I didn’t.

We traveled to Columbus, Nebraska for their wedding. I remember the small church with the beautiful walls and ceiling. I remember her siblings singing in the choir loft above.

We met so many of her nieces and nephews over that wedding weekend. By the time we left the reception at Wishbone’s, many of us had developed crushes and/or penpals.

I remember taking a road trip to stay at her brother Andy’s house. His wife, Paulette, was so kind to me; an awkwardly imposing teenager.

Every year on April Fool’s Day Uncle Doug would make us think a baby was on the way. I swear we waited FOREVER. In 1997, Meghan Leigh was born. She was a big baby. I babysat her quite a bit. She wouldn’t stop crying unless you held her like a football and walked with her. She was no fun, but I think she always knew how much I loved her (and she wanted me to leave her the heck alone).

Kyle Joseph came along around 2 years later. He was an even bigger baby. I have the privilege of being his Godmother. I’m pretty sure neither of us are Catholic anymore. We both enjoy video games. I don’t think he knows how much I love him.

Before every dance my friends and our dates would gather to take pictures in my Grama Hayden’s front yard. It became tradition for Aunt Genene to pin on my date’s boutonniere. Uncle Doug would take the pictures.

When I was in college Doug and Genene took a trip to Ireland. I was trusted to stay with the kids for the duration of the trip. I even kept detailed notes for them. Aunt Genene read them to me just a couple years ago when I was over for dinner. Amanda, my cousin, tag-teamed with me, and we both kept hilarious notes.

Aunt Genene sang Ave Maria in my (protestant) wedding. It was a dream of mine to hear her sing it, just as I heard her sing it at her wedding. It was so beautiful. If you’ve heard her sing, then you know what I mean.

After I got married, I didn’t see much of my family very often, but I remember growing distant from my Aunt Genene, even though she lived very close.

Her politics bothered me.

That is my biggest regret.

I let our political differences get in the way of being close to her, and now, it’s been almost a year since I lost the chance to change that forever.

I had just been at North Kansas City hospital the night before to visit my Aunt Narda. Aunt Narda had just made the decision to enter hospice due to pancreatic cancer. The next day, I was headed home from work, I received a text from my Uncle Doug.

It said that Aunt Genene had an accident and they didn’t think she was going to make it.

I didn’t believe it. I thought someone had taken his phone and was going to try to pump me for money. THAT was more believable than thinking my 53 year old aunt had died.

I asked where he was, and he said he was at NKC hospital. I immediately began driving (like 70 in a 45) to get there. I called my dad and told him to get there. I called my mom, told her to grab phone chargers and get to the hospital.

I was there within 10 minutes. Before I even got inside I saw my dad through the glass doors, and I knew. Once I walked in he didn’t speak; he couldn’t. He just shook his head.

My Aunt Brenda walked in next. My dad told her she didn’t make it. “What?!” she exclaimed in disbelief.

I pulled myself together because I wanted to get to Meghan and Kyle. I HAD to get to them.

I won’t share much of the several hours in that ER room because it’s blurry, personal, and the most painfully raw experience I’ve ever been in.

Over the next few hours almost my entire family came to the hospital. Since my Grama Hayden died in 2001, we have only been together as a family less than 5 times.

Death and grief have the ability to unify and polarize. We are an example of both.

My best friend’s dad came and prayed the rosary with us. Religion doesn’t matter when it’s time to honor and pay your respects.

I never experienced true grief until 3/14/2018. I was so sheltered, or maybe lucky. Now I am changed.

Funerals are weird to me. The immediate family members of the deceased are made to stand for hours and smile and shake hands and hug. It seems exhausting. There are so many emotions flying around. There’s grief, but also a sense of happiness at seeing loved ones you haven’t seen in so long.

And yet maybe the tempered happiness of the reunion works as as temporary salve to soothe the heartache for a bit.

It’s been nearly a year. This time last year we were texting about taking a tropical vacation together. I texted to remind her about Paula’s bridal shower a few days away.

The morning of March 14th she accidentally texted me. It was a text meant for Meghan, so I didn’t respond.

What if I had? Would I have been able to tell something was wrong? Could I have helped?

I don’t know the answer to that. I can’t change it.

I grieve that she will never know her grandchildren on this earth. I grieve that she will not be at her children’s weddings. I grieve that the best Hayden is alone is his big house; yet no less loved. I grieve not getting to hear her laugh or sing or say her kid’s names in the way only she could, as their mother. It’s terribly unfair.

My internal personal commitment has been to no longer allow differing politics to stand in the way of my relationships.

I don’t post much anymore about wedge issues the media chooses for us.

I don’t want my selfish need to express my opinion on social media to push away any chance of a relationship with people I care about.

I’ve seen that happen in my own family; not just for me and Aunt Genene, but between the grandkids/cousins. It literally grieves me.

This doesn’t mean I don’t express my views, but I try so hard not to do it just because I think I want to be heard.

If you know where I stand anymore, it’s because we’ve talked face-to-face, or on the phone. It won’t be through hurled insults typed on any screen.

Love is what matters. And yes, it matters to me regardless of who someone votes for.

That’s how my Aunt Genene’s death has changed me. I want my love to be what people know about me. I want love to lead the way in my relationships of any type.

2 weeks after my Aunt Genene died, my Aunt Narda died. A week later a sweet teacher-friend died.

All those chances to love were lost. People. I lost people.

For tonight, I raise a glass of my strawberry lambic beverage to my Aunt Genene. She would have enjoyed it…and she would have been tipsy on half a glass. She was always a lightweight.

Life is fleeting, and sometimes hard. We don’t need to make it harder.

Tell your people you love them. Be gentle. Be patient. Seek justice, but remember that social media keyboard battles aren’t likely to change much.

But our love just might.


  1. Sherri Altis - March 13, 2019

    Well said, Lisa. We all need to learn to cherish each other more.

  2. Amanda - March 13, 2019

    I’m not crying! I love you and this is so beautiful!

  3. Maria Reynolds - March 13, 2019

    Wow! You are an amazing person Lisa and the only way I know you is through Facebook and the fact that we are related once removed. (? Probably stated wrong, Lol, but you know what I mean) What a good soul you are and what a beautiful tribute to your Aunt and family.

  4. Brenda - March 13, 2019

    This was so beautiful. Hard to read between the snotty nose tears, but I couldn’t have said it better. Love you Lisee

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