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My Great Aunt Is Helping Me Raise My Kid — From Beyond The Grave

Jul 19, 2019

My great aunt Ella Mae would have loved my daughter. And no doubt, vice versa. My kid was born a decade after my aunt died, so they never had the opportunity to know each other. This breaks my heart a little because my aunt taught me so much, and I know she would have done the same with my child.

For me, it was important that my daughter get to know my aunt. My early years were tumultuous, and I was blessed to have her as the one constant in my life. She was a refreshingly sane, occasionally stern, wise force in my world. Beginning at the age of two, I was sent to live with her during my parents’ bitter divorce. This arrangement lasted for three years, and it has left an indelible impression on me to this day.

Her life lessons are more relevant in today’s complicated, consumer-driven world which can make raising a girl challenging. Since my aunt is no longer here to offer her perspective, I’ve taken the initiative to share with my daughter some of the lessons that have meant the most to me. Through this process, I’ve found that I’m connecting my daughter with her family — to a relative she never had the chance to know. And not just her, she's more connected to me! And that’s important.


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I’ve always believed that the more you know about where you have come from, the better idea you have of where you are going. And research suggests that this is more than a simple sentimental exercise. According to a study by Emroy University, children become more confident and secure when they have a connection to family members from the past.

Here are just a few of my aunt’s life lessons that I share to keep those connections alive:

You can find more with your eyes than your mind.

I can’t imagine how much of my life has been spent searching for items I’ve absentmindedly misplaced. My aunt taught me to approach finding lost things from a more analytical perspective. When did you have it last? Where would you most likely have placed it? What is the best way to find it? I can’t tell you how much time these simple steps have saved me over the years. And every time I lose something (which is frequent), I think of her. I hope my daughter does, too.


Waste not, want not.

Could there be a more appropriate approach to life given today’s overwhelming environmental challenges? But decades before the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — my aunt saved and reused just about anything imaginable. If it could be reused, she’d reuse it. I don’t hesitate to share her recycling stories as I emphasize the importance of each individual’s actions in battling pollution and climate change.


We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Like many Canadians of her era, my aunt was influenced by Christian values. She often repeated these words from the bible, but her intent went beyond the biblical context. She wanted to instill an appreciation that human beings are wonderfully complex and resilient, while at the same time, ultimately fragile. It’s an awareness that I share often in the hope that it will encourage my daughter to understand the importance of health and balance in her young life. 


You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

We all know this one, but I think there is a little more here than meets the eye. It’s almost a compact philosophy of life that got me thinking about human interaction on a whole new level at a very young age. Even better, it works. When my daughter is in a dilemma about whether to use the honey or vinegar approach, I remind her of what my aunt would say: Go for the honey.


What’s meant for you, won’t pass you by.

I love this one because we live in a culture that places undue emphasis on winning. We must all be winners at all costs. But it belies the reality that much of life is about losing. We lose friends, lovers, money, jobs — everything we possess we will ultimately lose. Yet, we equate loss with failure, when loss is the most natural thing in the world. I remember as a young tween, the unimagined and all-consuming pain when my first girlfriend dumped me. My aunt, sensing my sadness, looked at me and said those simple words. I couldn’t help but smile at the truth she had shared — so simple and so powerful.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and documentary film producer who is passionate about developing projects that explore social issues and innovation. He is currently shooting and producing Long Ride Home, a project that explores innovative healing paths for post-traumatic stress. Craig lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer, and podcaster, and their tween daughter – his most challenging and rewarding project to date!  You can catch his latest work at mediadiner.com.

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