Back to my Detroit Roots

This morning Steve will join me for a flip trip to Detroit.

My Aunt Sharon O’Donnell died last week of complications from lymphoma. She was the wife of Mom’s youngest brother.

She was also my Dad’s beloved companion after their respective spouses died.

Aunt Sharon was a dame.  She graduated from Ohio State and decided she wanted to see the world .  Off she went to the new Dallas facility where flight attendants went to “school” for 6 weeks.  She flew for a while, and then was asked to open the VIP lounge in the Detroit airport.  In those days, the “Admiral’s Club” was a place where the power elite rested and conducted business.  It was a reward for  the early adopters who flew frequently.  Most of them were business leaders or celebrities who wanted an anonymous place to hang out while planes were being serviced or fueled.  Oh, Aunt Sharon had stories.  And she kept most of them to herself.

Living in Detroit, she caught the eye of Grandpa O’Donnell with her red hair, searing intelligence and her Irish roots.  She was just the girl for his youngest son, Michael.  (Grandpa was an Irish matchmaker, always looking for a “Patrick”  for me. My eldest is named for this running joke.)  She worked with American in the Admiral’s  Club until 1988, when she retired due to my Uncle’s illness.

She was not used to being defeated, but after a National tour of every treatment option she could fly free to, my Uncle died of cancer of the throat. It was a 5 year quest. She was brokenhearted.

She  never sat still, substitute teaching, playing bridge, trading with her portfolio.

When my Dad became a widower, they decided to wrestle some extra joy out of life together, traveling, seeing movies, dining out, and bless her heart and toes- dancing. Aunt Sharon was not a girly girl- she was a great companion, independent.  She hadn’t made female friends during her career. I think she was lonely.   And so they knit themselves a routine that took them back into the world.  They retained their separate lives, but scheduled adventures to look forward to.  Dad loved her.  We loved her.

Aunt Sharon and Dad

She bought a unit in Dad’s condo building, where we have an apartment.  She oversaw a remodeling of her unit, and then jumped in and oversaw our rehab.  She loved having a project, and could boss the toughest contractor into submission.  She certainly quieted (or ignored) Dad, a skill most of us never managed.  She was the kind of person who would call a restaurant and reserve an Osso Bucco so she wouldn’t be disappointed.  She was, in fact, Steve with a skirt.

She sold her unit months before the market tanked. Made massive profits. Never returned.  Her skin was too Irish for Florida, and the pace was too slow.  She missed her bridge commitments and her computer.  We missed her.

When she learned she was ill, many years ago, she brushed her lymphoma to a corner in her life. No treatment.  Just rest.  She did not speak of it, was not a fan of Doctors or hospitals.  She put herself on the road she wanted to be on, and stayed there.

She also stepped back as Dad faded.  One march to death with a man was enough.  We got that.

She was a tough broad.  My cousins will be navigating some dark places, but they can take comfort in knowing that their Mom controlled what she could control, lived a storied life, had a good time, was the smartest person in almost any room, and loved them passionately.  You could do a hell of a lot worse with your time here.

Like Aunt Sharon, they will carry on. She showed them how.

And if there really is some sort of reunion in the hereafter- there might have been an awkward moment just inside those Pearly Gates.  I’m pretty sure she wrestled it into submission in record time.  Life is for the living.  She lived.


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