It was one of those things I had dreaded and hoped I would never have to hear. However, I knew it would happen eventually; and with recent major health problems, I accepted that it was inevitable. Yet when I saw the words appear on my computer screen, I did not want to believe it. "Aunt Vera has died."

Since I received those words last week, I have not stopped thinking about how much I will miss Aunt Vera. We never lived closer than about 600 miles apart. We never spent a great deal of time together. We never had long and emotional heart to heart conversations. However, the news of her death has reminded me of what a great loss I am experiencing.

As I have spent the better part of the last week in reflection about life, family, faith, friendship and love, I am reminded of all the things Aunt Vera represents to me. When I think of Aunt Vera, I think of these things.

I think about how she has always been there. Even before my mother died when I was eleven years, old Aunt Vera (my mother's sister) was a wonderful part of our family. We thought she was special. She thought we were special. She was always there. After my mother died, she became in many ways, though from long distance, a substitute mother. Although I did not talk with her often, nor did I call her and pour out my heart to her, I knew I could have if I wanted or needed to do so. My sister talks about how when there was need in caring for my grandfather in the latter days of his life and Aunt Vera would be there doing what needed to be done. Aunt Vera was always there.

I think about how real she was. There was nothing phony about her. When she loved someone, they knew it. If she did not care for someone, I suspect she had her ways of showing that. She did not pretend to be something she was not. She was who she was. She was a faithful and devoted wife. His people were her people. His home was her home. Where he went, she went. She was a mother of two wonderful daughters. She was a grandmother ... sister ... aunt and friend. She was a real friend. If you called with a need, she was ready to help. Aunt Vera was real.

I think about her laugh. Her laugh is not one that could be imitated. It was unique. Even though she is silent to me now, I can still hear her laugh. And she loved to laugh. She loved a good story. She loved to tell them and she loved to hear them. Her laugh made me laugh even if I did not know why I was laughing. As a child I remember hearing her tell stories about people I did not know or understand what was happening in the story, yet when she laughed, I wanted to laugh. Aunt Vera loved to laugh.

I think about how she loved people. At her funeral, and during visits before and after the service, there were stories of how she always wanted to help people. Volunteer work. Neighborly work. Family work. Whoever needed her help she would help. She loved people that others might have ignored. She loved people who might have appeared to be unlovable. Aunt Vera loved people.

I think about how she loved me. At a time when I needed a mother, she was my mother. At many times through the years when I needed to know someone loved me, she would convince me that I was loved. There were times I would call to check on her, but a secondary motive was to simply hear her voice and be reassured that I was loved. She never failed to reassure me. Aunt Vera loved me.

When I think of Aunt Vera I think of these words:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:4-9, 12-13 NIV)

By God's standards she was a great lady.
By the world's standards, Aunt Vera would never be considered great. She was not wealthy. She did not live in a big luxurious house. She did not drive a fancy car. She did not attend all the social events of her day. Never the less, she was a great lady. She was a servant to her husband, a servant to her daughters, a servant in her church and in her community, and though she may have never realized she was doing it she was a servant to this nephew. Through her servant spirit she taught me and countless others the true meaning go service. By God's standards, she was a great lady.

God has richly blessed me through my Aunt Vera. I am a better man because Aunt Vera was my aunt. I am forever grateful to have been the nephew of my Aunt Vera.

Thanks Aunt Vera.

Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8)