Our Lady of Grace: Remembering My Late Aunt Evie Byrnes-Mast

If we are lucky in this world we are surrounded by women who are kind, inspiring and good friends. If we are truly lucky, we may have a special role model. My late Aunt Evie was that person for me.

She was taken too soon by pancreatic cancer at the age of 81. She was a bright light in my life. Most of all I would say she was a woman of grace. She was a true lady of calmness and kindness. She spread wisdom everywhere and in every conversation. This seemed to be a natural outcropping of being the oldest daughter in her family of 11 children. It’s hard to describe what made my aunt so special, but here are some stories that I hope show ways she lived with grace.  

Putting Family First
As my mom’s older sister, my Aunt Ev was there right after my birth. Though my family moved all over the country, my aunt made it a point to visit every year despite her busy career. As a young child, I remember singing, “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” for hours before her arrival. And she didn’t disappoint. She greeted us with hugs and excitement.

Family was important to Ev. She was a natural for her job as eldest daughter. After college, Ev got a job working for AT&T and was ready to move to the big city. But a trip home helped her realize that she didn’t know her younger siblings well. She decided instead to move back home to live with her family at a time when people didn’t typically think about moving home.

Giving the Gift of Time
Most of all, my aunt Ev made everyone around her feel special. When my mom had passed away, Ev was the one to be there for my daughter’s birth. She came a week early to get to know my son’s routine. On the day of my daughter’s birth she was the first person besides my husband to greet her. 

She and my son arrived at the hospital with a playdough birthday cake they had made together that morning. She was there for my daughter’s birthday every year after that.   
Her way of making people feel special was to spend time getting to know each person. When I went with my kids to visit her and my Aunt Ellen one time in Highlands, North Carolina, I watched as they all found sticks, safety pins and strings to create fishing poles. My aunts then took the kids to a pond to fish and feed the ducks. It all felt so familiar. And then I remembered trips with them myself as a child to the riverfront near their family home in New York. Some things stand the test of time.  

Living a Strong Belief
My Aunt Ev’s faith was strong and abiding, both in the almighty and the people she loved. As part of my first job, I was in a 10 week training program with a “Pass or Fire” test at the end. I was worried about passing the test. “When you were young,” she told me, “You would put your nose in a book and you would concentrate so much, you could not hear anyone around you. You have great concentration skills. You can do it.” I quit stressing and passed the test. She paid attention to each person in her life.    

Her advice and beliefs also shaped my life. As a young person out of college, we were watching the TV in her kitchen and I asked her thoughts about gay marriage or something. “Marg,” she said. “I believe everyone deserves a little happiness.” This shaped my view on so many things in life.  

Ev also welcomed me into her Atlanta family. While I lived there, I was often invited to family dinners with her husband Kurt and step kids. I was making the salad one time and left too much water on the lettuce. She patiently showed me how to do it correctly. (Who knew the “Salad Spinner” existed?) She said, “What’s worth doing, is worth doing right.” This also shaped my life, plus I never made a soggy salad again. 

Walking with Grace
Ev was a woman of grace. Her words were always kind and thoughtful (even with the soggy salad incident). When I visited her this January, she was struggling after a bout with pneumonia on top of the cancer. She told me a story of how she cried all the way home after a visit with our family and her sister, my mom. She teared up. I asked her why she was crying. She said, “It just feels like such a very long time since we’ve been together.” Well, they are together now.

It seems hard to believe Ev is gone from this world and I’m not sure how to get through it. So, rather than look at the loss, I count myself lucky to have had the time I did with Ev in my life. I have a ring she gave me and I’ll wear it often as a small reminder to strive to walk with grace like her.  

Margee Moore is a marketing professional, mother of two and author of Sleeping with the Laundry: Notes from the Mommy Track.    

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