January 13, 2015—exactly one month after my mother’s birthday. That is the day my great aunt passed away. After 92 incredible years on this earth, her energy fled her body and everything I knew and loved was gone. There’s something to be said for a woman who was known affectionately as the world’s aunt. Someone who could live their life in such a way to influence, encourage, and love that many people.
I had moved home after my father passed away in June to assist my mother in day-to-day chores as well as being an active caregiver for my aunt. The smile grew across my aunts face, shining ear to ear, the day I moved home. There were tears in her eyes as she came towards me to grab my cheeks in her hands and tell me how happy she was to have me home, how proud of me she was that I would come to help. For me, there was never any other option—my family needed me, so I answered their call for help.
The following months would be incredibly challenging. None of us could foresee my aunt falling and breaking her femur, only to be followed by me falling and breaking my shoulder trying to get help. She never fully recovered from how weak the surgery made her and how tired she was from trying to recuperate. Still, she got up each morning fighting each day to support my mother and I with all the love in the world. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind she survived those final months because she didn’t want to leave us if we couldn’t make it without her.
I remember the call at work telling me her last rights were read and that she wasn’t showing signs of getting better. I rushed home and up the stairs to her room and took her hand. Her breathing was pained, almost like she was breathing through a hose filled with water. I stayed up with her all night giving her the medicine to calm her, relax her, and, I hope, took some of the pain away from her body failing her. The last words my aunt was able to speak were “I love you too.” I couldn’t bare to leave her side, despite how hard it was to watch her slip away.
I would be writing for days, weeks, years, if I were to go through the countless things this woman has taught me. If I were to even try to explain what kind of impact she has had over her 92 incredible years of life, there’s absolutely no way I would be able to do her true justice. I know that I’ve been touching on sadder, more challenging topics—but these are very real challenges in my daily life. These are feelings and thoughts that I’m still learning to navigate. Whether I like it or not, I’m still searching for directions each and every day that no one has the answers to. Losing people you love is heartbreaking and life changing. Having lost so many people at such a young age has taught me things that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. I know now that my initial reaction to any crisis “everything will be ok” is not accurate most of the time. We have no idea how much time we have here, not everything will be ok—however, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Each and every single one of the challenges I have faced is for a reason—for some lesson, experience, and life molding opportunity to make me the person I am sitting here writing this blog. Instead of focusing on how deafening the loss I have felt can be, I’m choosing to make it a learning experience and know life is too short to not live how I want to.
There is one quote from one of my favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie, that I’ve been thinking about lately: “Love is watching someone die…so whose going to watch you die?” I think back to who stood there by my side while my father was dying, who was there when my aunt was slipping away. It’s an interesting thought; we’re always told the people we surround ourselves with are a reflection of who we are and how we act. I challenge each of you to look at your life and reflect on these same things that I have been: Is this how I want to live my life? Are the people I’m surrounding myself with ones that would watch me die?