My aunt died yesterday. Debbie was only seventy. Breast cancer that went into remission about nine years ago metastasized with a vengeance. She fought for three months and lost the battle. The entire family is devastated, but my ninety-eight and ninety-seven-year old grandparents are especially so. Our grief is now for ourselves. Debbie is at peace.
What can one even say about death? We all know we will die one day. It’s a fact. And though we do our best to prolong life, even defy aging, death will come eventually…whether we are ready or not. We cannot predict it. We cannot control it. We cannot prevent it.
To deal with the reality of death, we establish a type of logic model to make sense of it all. The natural order of things would seemingly dictate that grandparents die before parents; parents before children. When it comes to siblings, it often is assumed that the youngest will survive the eldest. We also hope that everyone will live to ripe old ages and will die peacefully in his or her sleep. The hierarchy somehow comforts and helps us accept the inevitable.
Unfortunately, we can’t count or rely on a logical or predictable timeline for dying. It simply is not realistic. I personally have known far too many parents who have buried their own children. (I forever will be haunted by the sight of miniature coffins.) I know of too many people who’ve died as a result of suicides, accidents, or illnesses — whether they were in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or beyond.
Death is what it is.
* * *
Debbie was fourteen when I was born. In many ways, she was more like an older sister than an aunt to me. She took me to the mall to buy me my first blush and mascara. She was the one I confided in when I couldn’t talk to my parents. I used to babysit for her three sons, my cousins, when I was in high school. We all celebrated holidays together….frankly, I don’t have many childhood memories that don’t include her.
I was able to visit my aunt last weekend to say goodbye. Although she couldn’t speak, Debbie was lucid and knew it was I when I entered her hospital room. She gestured for me to sit on the bed beside her. I held her hand. She looked at me and shrugged. “Yes,” I said, “this totally sucks.”
As my weekend visit drew to a close, and it was time for me to leave, I told Debbie how much she meant to me through my life and how much I’d love and miss her in the years to come. I told her she’d be remembered. I thanked her for everything as the tears began to flow. She mouthed, “I love you.”
I kissed her one last time and bolted from her room. I couldn’t even look at my uncle’s haggard, pained face. I sobbed as I headed for the elevator.
I simply cannot believe I will never see her again.
* * *
During this holiday season we should surround ourselves with family and friends. And as we enter a new year, we should resolve to make the most out of each and every day.