Today is the third anniversary of my great-aunt’s death. It happened on a Friday morning; I called my grandma’s house to see if my aunt-mom wanted to go visit her in the nursing home with me and was informed that she’d passed early that morning from congestive heart failure.
I helped my aunt-mom and grandma take care of her from when I was fifteen until twenty-one. She’d begun to show early signs of dementia when I was younger, but went downhill quite quickly after she had a valve replacement when I was a young teenager. She moved in with us and stayed in our house until my grandmother had a stroke…then, unfortunately, we had to move her to a nursing home. I was working and busy with college, and my aunt-mom was also working two jobs. Gran was in the hospital for about a month, and her health was beginning to fail as well.
She met D when he was visiting me for the first time and staying in our house, and though her Alzheimer’s was quite advanced by that point, she always remembered him and was quite fond of him because he’d sit for hours and talk to her and my grandma. My previous boyfriend, who had abused me, never really said much to my family, and my great-aunt never remembered his name. But whenever I’d take D with me to visit her in the nursing home, she greeted us with a huge smile and always gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before we left.
When I was told she’d passed, I didn’t cry. Instead, I sat down and wrote a massive 25-page psychology paper analyzing Dorian Gray and coming up with a treatment plan for his disorders. Ha. It was a weird time in my life, because D and I had decided to scrap the plans for a big wedding, push the date to December 2010, and were sending out invitations the weekend of her wake/funeral. During both events, I was inconsolable, though my family didn’t really talk about it and I barely saw any of them cry. I don’t mean to imply that they’re cold; it’s just that most of my family believes in keeping a stiff upper lip and soldiering on. I would have been able to do so, too, if it weren’t for the fact that my great-aunt was the first major death I’d experienced and she was essentially a mother to me—she was always there to help my grandmother when I was a child and stopped by every single night after work to spend time with me and feed me when I was a baby. We went everywhere together during my summer and winter vacations from school, and I spent many weekends at her house learning to cook and bake. She was a fantastic bowler and sharp at cards, and she and my grandma spent quite a bit of time playing cards and reminiscing about the “old days” and their friends from when they were young.
Today has been really hard for me. She was an incredible woman and I’ll always miss her. I want to get a memorial tattoo for her, probably yellow roses (which decorated her coffin and are symbolic of friendship) and some type of bird on a branch. I know it’s sort of a cliche concept, but I can’t think of anything that represents her more accurately.
I’ll end with some of my favorite photos of her. I’ve never fully grieved and think of her every day, but I’m hoping the sadness will start to fade after a while and be replaced with happy memories. As an atheist, I don’t really believe in heaven or hell, but I’m making an exception for her. She was an incredible woman, and I hope there was something better waiting for her on the other side. She deserved it.