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September 2, 2013
Life on Planet Kathy
Thoughts on the Death of a Fake Aunt
by Kathryn H. Kidd

My aunt died the other day. Actually, she was my second cousin, but my mother was raised by her parents so she was a fake aunt — with all the rights and privileges that being a fake aunt implies.

What she really was, was my godmother. Mormons may not even know what a godmother is, but godparents are people who promise to raise a child in the church (whatever church the parents belong to) if the parents die before the child reaches maturity.

My mother died before I reached maturity, so technically Aunt Barbara should have stepped up to raise me as an Episcopalian. But by then I was lost to Mormonism, and there was also the little glitch that Aunt Barbara had never liked me anyway.

Aunt Barbara was fairly good at hiding her loathing. It was only when I was in my early forties that I got a hate letter from her. I was gobsmacked, and I felt more than a little betrayed. If I had chosen a favorite adult relative in the whole world, other than my mother, Aunt Barbara and my real aunt, Aunt Em, were running neck and neck in the lead. It killed me to learn she had hated me all along.

But if I’d stopped to think about it, it would have made sense. I have said many times that I was a child that only a mother could love, and Aunt Barbara was not my mother. It only stood to reason that she couldn’t stand me. (Aunt Em probably couldn’t stand me, either. She probably just had the good taste not to write hate mail confirming the fact.)

For her part, Aunt Barbara was surprised that I stopped writing letters to her after she told me she hated me. This was not an act of spite, as much as it was a lack of energy. I had other aunts I was supposed to be writing to, but wasn’t. I decided I should put the other aunts, who may only dislike me, ahead of the one that I knew hated my guts.

(Since I wasn’t writing to any of them, of course, this was only a technicality. But it was a technicality that hurt Aunt Barbara’s feelings right up until the time she lost her mind and forgot who I was altogether.)

Aunt Barbara had four children, but one of them was her favorite child to the point that the other three children weren’t even in the running. Her favorite child stole all her money and imprisoned her in a room for the last few years of her life so he could keep stealing her Social Security checks for as long as she lived. When Aunt Barbara died, the burial plans were inconclusive for a week, apparently because the favorite son didn’t want to part with Aunt Barbara’s hard-earned money in order to pay for the funeral.

A callous person could laugh it off, saying Aunt Barbara was obviously not a good judge of character. My sisters and I were sad about it, though. Susie and I have been reading books about near death experiences. Several of those books said people are allowed to come back and watch their funerals. It broke our hearts to think of Aunt Barbara coming back to watch her funeral, only to see that her favorite son hadn’t bothered to pay for one.

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s that hate is such an expensive emotion. It hurts people’s feelings to be hated. It hurts them now, and it can hurt them even after they’re dead and come back to watch their send-offs. There were dozens of great stories about Aunt Barbara that should have been dusted off and trotted out at her funeral, so everyone could have remembered what a terrific person she was. Instead, it was all about money. Why don’t people understand that no amount of money is important enough to hurt people like that?

I think the problem is that we can’t see others as they really are. Aunt Barbara never got over seeing me as a wailing, colicky baby. Seeing me as a daughter of God wasn’t even an option for her. She couldn’t get over the crying and the unpleasantness of Kathy as a child.

Her son had the same failing. He looked at his mother and saw nothing more than a checkbook. He never noticed how bright and entertaining she was.

In this life, the best we can hope is to “see through a glass, darkly.” It’s called being human. I look forward to the day, however, when all of the misconceptions fall away and we can see one another without any of our earthly disguises. It will be as though we have all taken off masks at a carnival ball at midnight.

Will we be overjoyed at the faces that surround us, or horrified? What about our own faces? I hope my own face will radiate goodness, but that isn’t something that just happens. Day after day, we have to work to make that happen.

Copyright © 2024 by Kathryn H. Kidd Printed from