Eleanor Rear, my great aunt and family matriarch, passed away early this Sunday morning at the age of 88. My aunt lived her entire life in the same house in Arnold, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar steel town just outside of Pittsburgh. I have fond memories of spending my summers there when I was a kid, but I really got to know and appreciate my aunt much later in life as an adult.
My aunt was from the generation that knew the Great Depression. She would tell us stories of how her father was a bartender, and thus one of the few families on the block taking home a paycheck. They would often feed the other children in the neighbor, and to this day, the children of these children would still thank my aunt for what her family did for them when times were tough.
Eleanor Rear was also a devout Catholic, attending church often more than once a week. But more than a devout Catholic, she was the embodiment of what Christianity is supposed to be about. She was honest, tolerant, kind, forgiving and generous to the extreme — all traits that too many “people of faith” today seem to be completely lacking.
She never married. She had met a young man in her youth that she liked, but he was Lutheran and the church would not allow it. She passed away unmarried due to her devotion to her church. She kept track of that young man, and he remained single to this day.
What I most admire her for is that she gave to others her entire life, at her own expense. I remember visiting her several years ago before her sister Augusta passed away. It brought me to tears to see Eleanor, at over 80 years old, providing nursing care for her older sister in that same house. It was at that moment when I came to fully grasp the gravity of the sacrifice she had made for us and the rest of the family. Her life was all about giving to others, and I realized much too late that I would never be able to repay her for that.
In spite of my own agnostic beliefs, I am confident Eleanor is in a better place. She is the purest of saints and an example from another generation of how to lead a good life. I will greatly miss her. I have attempted to honor her by naming my daughter after her, but the void souls such as hers leave in this world are hard to comprehend and too often impossible to fill.