In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty meaningless word. Just three harmless little letters plucked from an alphabet of twenty-six. It’s a word that we use countless times every day and never give it a second thought. It’s not a word that you examine for a deeper or hidden meaning when said, you just know what it means. Your brain uses it to connect the dots of a sentence. It doesn’t serve any greater purpose in the English language than to imply tense.

Or so I thought. Only when forced to associate it with a loved one do you truly begin to understand the devastative power that it possesses.

My Aunt Billie was an amazing woman. She was the sweetest person I have ever known. She was the kindest soul in our family. She was a talented singer. And today, we lost her.

I wish that I had the ability to write something that would make you all feel as though you had known her, because you would have loved her as I do. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body, and welcomed all strangers as family. It’s a trait she inherited from her parents, my grandparents, and one that has been passed down the family line. I will never be as good of a human being as my Aunt Billie was, but I’m sure as hell giving it the best that I have.

I was an affectionate child—perhaps overly so—always happy to embrace the members of my family with hugs. Our family was a little old-fashioned, so it wasn’t considered appropriate to hug the men. I was too young to understand that at the time, but it felt cold, and only made me more affectionate toward the women in our family.

Because I didn’t get to see her every day, Aunt Billie always took the brunt of my calculated hug-fest when I saw her. She never complained, and she never turned me away. In fact, one year for Christmas her and my Uncle Casey had a custom t-shirt made for me (presumably at one of those t-shirt stores popular at malls during the ‘80s) with a picture of a bear, arms outstretched, that said, “I Need a Hug.” It would’ve been considered “uncool” to wear to school, so I only wore it around the house and tried to hide it. What I wouldn’t give to have that t-shirt now.

My Aunt Billie loved football and was a diehard Raiders fan. Or at least pretended to be for the sake of my Uncle. 🙂 I remember going to their apartment as a child and seeing the, “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season” sign hanging on their television dial. I’d learn to “get” that joke later on in life.

My Aunt Billie also made the most delicious soft-batch cookies: Chocolate with peanut butter chips. I have never found another cookie as good as hers, and I can still taste them to this day. She’d fill the cookie jar with them before we’d visit, and I swear my sister and I would eat until it was empty.

I mentioned earlier that my Aunt Billie was a talented singer. I had the chance to see her perform with her big band many years ago, but her love of music went back so much further than that. She could have been the next Shirley Temple. No, seriously. She was discovered by a talent scout as a kid that had big plans for her career. It didn’t wind up happening, but my Aunt never abandoned her passion for singing and entertaining a crowd. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see her do it.

I could go on and on and share stories about her, but the point is that she was incredible. She was an example of what a person should be. She was too good for this world, and she enriched the lives of everyone that knew her. I am a better person because she was a part of my life. I know it’s cliché to say this, but there really will always be a part of her with me as I live out the rest of my life.

Aunt Billie, this part is just for you. I love you. I thank you for everything you’ve added to my life, and I am sorry that we have run out of days together on this earth. I will never forget a single thing about you, nor the kindness and generosity that you’ve taught me. I wish we could have had more time. There’s never enough time. However, I am so grateful that I had one last chance to hear your voice, and I am so happy that my last letter to you brought you joy and made you feel a little better as your health began to fade. I miss you so much already.

And God, if you’re real, take care of my Aunt Billie, because there is no place that deserves her more than Heaven.

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