Column: An angel’s smile

Emily Lundell
“She never gave up. Even when her health had her trapped in that chair for days, she never resigned herself to living that way.”

My Aunt Mimi lives in a recliner in a small house fenced in by 60 foot pine trees outside Cabot, Arkansas. Pulling into her driveway, my dad would wake up me and my sisters, saying we’ve arrived.

My Uncle Ronnie was always sitting on his stool in the garage with a cigarette burning nearby, solving a crossword at lighting speed. He’d let out a deep chuckle and greet me with a hug.

Ronnie’s booming laugh let Aunt Mimi know we were there. Her chihuahuas’ shrill barks carried through the thin wooden door to the garage, followed by a loud and Southern drawl heavy “hush” from Mimi.

I walked into their living room, to see my aunt sitting in her recliner with an angel’s smile.

Through the years, things haven’t changed much around her house. She’s gotten new furniture and changed the fridge, but every time I walked through that door, Aunt Mimi was almost always in her brown leather recliner.

Her eyes lit up when she saw me, making me feel like the most important person in the universe. She’d sit up in her chair, ignoring the barking chihuahuas in her lap. She hugged me and told me how much she missed her sweet angel baby boy.

That hug always felt like home. I felt safe and at peace.

But as years passed, that hug changed.

My aunt has struggled with her weight for a long time, so as movement became harder, she found herself spending more time in the chair. Her eyes wouldn’t light up as much. Her smile seemed forced, hiding the pain in her legs. She couldn’t sit up as much for that first hug. She seemed trapped in her chair.

My aunt made a point to travel to Texas to see my two older sister’s graduations. The trip was difficult but she refused to miss it. As the years passed and her health worsened, she went from walking herself to being pushed in a wheelchair.

At my oldest sister’s graduation from A&M, as I helped Aunt Mimi into her wheelchair, I realized she might not be able to come to my graduation. If her health got worse, the trip might be too much for her to handle. Even if my graduation is postponed I couldn’t imagine it without her.

My aunt has always tried to be positive, but I couldn’t deny what I saw. And I knew if this is what I saw on the outside, she must be hiding so much pain and hurt behind her perfect smile. Everytime we went to visit her my heart was heavy because in the back of my mind was this nagging thought that this might be the last time I see her.

However, I soon noticed a change. Whenever we visited, we wouldn’t order out as much. My aunt began to get smaller portions and asked for water instead of soda.

As months turned into years, her mood improved, she had more energy and she was able to get up and move more.

My aunt says this weight loss wasn’t attributed to hard work. She says it had to do with complications from a surgery, but that’s not what I saw. Yes, that issue kept her from eating as much, but she was the one who chose to drink more water, move around more and keep the weight off. After losing almost two hundred pounds, Aunt Mimi seemed transformed.

She never gave up. Even when her health had her trapped in that chair for days, she never resigned herself to living that way. Even when it was bad, when a walk from the living room to the kitchen left her breathing heavy, she still tried to move often. It was difficult and the strain on her body was clear, but she did it.

Now going to visit her in Arkansas and seeing her walking around the kitchen with a smile on her face as she makes her homemade cheese dip warms my heart like nothing else.

Through her entire weight loss journey, Aunt Mimi was never anything less than beautiful in my eyes. Now that she’s lost weight, I’ll be able to see her beautiful smile for a lot longer.