Have you ever noticed in families that there is always someone who cares for people? Parents care for children. Siblings care for each other. What, however, about the extended family? Does anyone else in the family extend such care? In my family, I can tell you that single aunts, uncles, and cousins are at the forefront of helping each other. They are often the unsung family heroes. I know because I have seen this first hand.
My family is a large Italian-American one. My mother is the last of twelve and my father is fourth in a line of nine. As you can imagine, many relatives in this clan have married and had their own children, who have had children as well. But some have not married (like me). And, others have remained single after either losing a spouse to an illness or through the sadness of divorce. I have witnessed the rich contributions to the life of the family in the example of my single cousins, uncles, and aunts.
Among my single family members the characteristic of generosity of time and talents is notable. There is Cousin Manuel for example, who would spend hours on a Saturday afternoon teaching my sisters and I about opera. Or, Uncle Jazz who throws a big Christmas eve party complete with all the traditional Italian fish dishes (at least as far as the Notare family defines them!). Or Cousin Giovina, who after her father died immediately took her mother to live with her and was always ready to pitch in to help someone in need. Probably the most representative of this clan is Aunt Rosie.
After Aunt Rosie’s husband died in her early forties, she remained single until she died at age ninety-one. Aunt Rosie devoted herself to taking care of the entire Jannicelli clan (that would be my mother’s side of the family). Aunt Rosie’s generosity was legendary. She didn’t have much money (her profession had been a cook in a large public school). Her generosity came in the form of the gift of herself and her many talents. At any given moment in a day she could be found doing something for someone, especially a family member.
For example, Aunt Rosie was a marvelous cook. She never tired of cooking for others or teaching others how to cook. But beware, if you borrowed one of her recipes, it was always from her public school cooking days and often called for enormous amounts of ingredients like twenty-pounds of butter and forty pounds of flour! In the days before the Internet, if you had a cooking question, you would undoubtedly call Rose Rocha to find out what to do. She always had the right answer.
More importantly however, Aunt Rosie nurtured family members. She looked after not only her own children, but those of her siblings. If one relative wasn’t treating another right, Aunt Rosie would step in and ensure that justice and family unity prevailed. For the children, Aunt Rosie would listen to childish stories about friends and school. She could also be found playing silly games—like dancing for me like a “real ballerina!” Aunt Rose gave sage advice to all and was the life of the party (singing old American or Italian songs).
Aunt Rosie checked in on family members regularly, always giving the gift of her time. And, lest you think she was merely a fun-loving party girl, she had the gumption to handle the most difficult of problems. So if, for example, someone was seriously sick, she not only would be there to help, but would call other family members as well to pitch in. It was Aunt Rosie who led the family team who cared for my dying grandmother, uncles, and grandfather. Rose Rocha didn’t mind getting her hands dirty and certainly understood the cost of love in hard times.
Much later in life, long after Aunt Rosie died, I realized the lessons I had learned from her. The most important being that despite the struggles in life, love poured out on others makes for a very happy life. In Aunt Rosie I had the example of a joyful, vibrant, and happy single woman who blossomed in the heart of the family. Aunt Rose set the tone for how a single family member can enrich the family!
Theresa Notare, PhD is the Assistant Director of the Natural Family Planning Program of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, USCCB