A week ago today, on September 4, 2012 my family lost my Aunt Vickie Niederhofer after 15 years of battling myasthenia gravis. She was one of the most courageous and compassionate people that anyone could have ever had the good fortune of knowing. Standing up at her funeral visitation, my family and I were greeted by her former co-workers, childhood friends, and parents of so many of the residents that she helped and looked after from Murray Center (she used to run the place). I was told by so many of them about the love and respect that they had for her, and so many of them spoke to us about times that she helped them. She was a helper and she was a doer. It was never about what she could do to help or further her own needs, it was always about the needs of others and what she could do to help them.
Aunt Vic lived her life for her sons and the rest of her family and there was never any question of how much she loved us and anyone else that was close to her. She was a leader who could be very bossy. I, along with her entire family and especially my cousins Travis and Adam, know this from firsthand knowledge and also heard it from the many people who worked under her at Murray, but every one of those same folks would also say that there wasn’t anything she would not have done for them. She was a leader that mostly led by example and she would say that every one of us has the capability of doing the same.
There are people out there that have brightened my day just by the way that they carried themselves or by a complement that I heard them give someone. These are people that you look at and can tell that they are genuinely happy. They aren’t happy just because things seem to be going their way. They are happy because it is their nature to look at the bright side of life no matter what is happening. They are happy because, why be not be happy? These are the people that unknowingly change others’ lives. Aunt Vickie was one of these people. Now you may not have seen her skipping down the street and whistling to herself, but she definitely changed lives and led a happy life every day. I know this because I was lucky enough to be her nephew and I know this because my family and I have been told by so many people that we had never met before just how much she meant to them. She was someone that they knew they could count on. She was someone that they knew would have their backs and would fight for them. She was someone that had all the attributes that we need to have more of in this world.
Her laugh was contagious and it could brighten up your day on the drop of a dime. Whenever I was around her I would often do whatever I could to get her to laugh, and she usually would. I think part of the time she was probably laughing just so I would feel like I was funny, part of the time I may have said something funny, but most of the time she was laughing just because she loved to. She was a young soul. She had a great sense of humor and that is one of things that I will miss most about her. She could also be quite the wisenheimer when it came to smart-ass remarks and rebuttals to people when they would complain to her about something. She could take you by surprise pretty quickly with some of the things that would come out of her mouth, but you could not help but love her for it. I will miss these particular things about my Aunt Vickie so much. She was an aunt that I felt just as comfortable goofing around with at the dinner table during holidays as I did with my siblings and cousins. If you told her that she needed to clean her house, she probably would have told you to kiss her ass. Her house was always cluttered and I know that a lot of the reason for this was because she just didn’t have the energy to clean sometimes. I think it also had to do with her not thinking about herself half as much as she was thinking of others. She wasn’t here for herself. She was here for everyone else. She probably would have also told you that all brilliant people throughout history were messy.
During my brief time on this earth I have dealt with more instances of death than I have liked. I have learned that it is quite simply a part of life. One thing I have noticed through it all is how much all of us that are still here connect with one another after the passing of a loved one. It is a beautiful thing. It may have become clichéd to say that it is a shame that it takes losing someone to bring everyone together, that it is a shame that it takes losing someone for us to tell each other how much we appreciate each other, or for us to realize just how lucky we are to have each other in our lives. There are truths to most clichés. Looking back now I see so many things that I knew and loved about Aunt Vickie while she was still here, but may not have thought as much about until now that she is gone. Anyone who could be sick for 15 years and tackle it with the courage and outlook that she had is someone that I, along with many others could look to as someone to inspire us. She found a way to see the good in everyone. I have said to more than a few people over the last week that if Aunt Vickie did not like someone that they probably didn’t deserve to be liked. She led her life as a strong Christian that did not judge others. There is so much that I would love to have talked to her about now that she is gone. We all need to look at one another and take the time to appreciate each other while we’re here. I am guilty of saying it’s a “shame that it takes losing someone” for us to connect with each other and then going on about my life and forgetting that I had said it. I’m ready to start living it every day now. Aunt Vickie did.
So next time you’re thinking about calling a loved one or emailing them or whatever, and then saying, “nah, I’ll do it tomorrow,” don’t put it off. It doesn’t take that much just to tell a loved one or friend that you love them and are here for them. You never really do know how much you could be helping someone by doing so. Looking back, there is so much more I wish I had been able to talk to Aunt Vic about. I wish I would have made it a point to go see her more often and just enjoy her laugh, or just talk to her about life. She would keep notebooks full of scripture passages, literature, or just uplifting quotes from people and then she would give them to folks. I wish I would have just gotten the chance to sit and discuss some of the things that I saw in these notebooks with her. It is human nature not to realize all that you have until it is gone, but I can try my best to see it while it’s here. We all can. I’ve been blessed with so many great family members and friends in my life, and I’ll be damned if I am going to look back in the future and regret not making the best of my time with them…
Aunt Vickie, wherever you are right now, know that we all miss you so much. You are and always will be an inspiration and there is so much I wish I could have shared with you while you were here. You are the best aunt that a nephew or niece could ask for and I know Travis and Adam speak the same of you as a mother. You stuck up for me at my most boneheaded times and this is something that only someone with a heart as big as yours would have done, and I will never forget it. As much as we all will miss you, we are all very lucky people to have had you in our lives. You will always be with us and you are an inspiration to me in the courage that you never let go of. We will all see you again someday.
PS: You probably already have, but could you see if you could get some help for the Cardinals? At the time that I’m writing this, they’ve lost 10 of their last 13.
PPS: I hope they have good maids in heaven.
We love you Aunt Vic.