My aunt Marie passed away Monday afternoon. This one hurts. Unlike my grandfather, who had been in ill health for quite a few years before his death in January, we didn’t even know how sick she was until two months ago.
My aunt was one of the strongest people I know. Stricken with juvenile arthritis at the age of nine and spending the next two years in the hospital recovering, she was put on a path at an early age that might have limited her potential. But she recovered her mobility (albeit with the aid of multiple joint replacements over the years), learned to drive, went to college, became a teacher, and then did a career change into accounting, business, and quantitative analysis. She was always independent, stubbornly so, living alone for many years.
It’s not her stubborn independence that I’ll remember as much as her sense of humor and her willingness to treat me as an adult when I was still very much a kid. She treasured the company of her cats, and let me name one of them. At the time we were both reading Lord of the Rings, so I suggested Boromir. Yes, it was a geeky thing to do, but she had already named one cat Bilbo Baggins, so we were very much on the same wavelength. Boromir it was. And she was always a lot of fun to be with. I still remember dinners out with her at the Corn Crib, a corny pizza place with a warped sense of humor (a sign above the door said, “In the event of nuclear war, will the last person to leave please turn off the soup!”).
It was during her early years as an accountant that she came to stay with my family when I was growing up. I think it was because she spent so much time with us that she had such a strong influence on me. I don’t think I’d be half the bookworm I am without her, and I know I wouldn’t be as brave. She was never one to hold back what she thought and never one to bite her tongue when she thought something was wrong. In her last days, we used to hold out hope that she would pull through by saying, “At least she’s still got her sharp tongue.” When my sister was sufficiently alarmed by updates on her health to drive through the night to get to see her, my aunt’s first words as she walked through the door at 3 am were “You’re an idiot!” And of course she was right, she was always right.
I’m really angry about her passing. To watch her struggle for so long against her various illnesses, only to see her get blindsided by the left hook of cancer, is maddening. Not only that: the fact that her cancer was so advanced when it was diagnosed makes me think, if only it had been caught sooner! But ultimately that’s self delusional: her cancer was a type that has a very poor cure rate, and we know it was very aggressive. I suppose I’m angriest for selfish reasons: I wanted her to be a part of my family’s life for a very long time. I miss you already, Aunt Marie.