In July, 3 days after I turned 27, my aunt died. Aged only 58.
I’d been helping her with bits and bobs through the last 2 years of her time struggling with terminal cancer; attending hospital appointments and treatment as well as staying over at hers just to keep her company.
Right now I wish I’d done so much more.
Before being diagnosed with terminal secondary breast cancer, I didn’t really know my aunt at all. I’d not spent time with her (other than when I’ve been a young child and can’t remember it) and had never visited her house. Now living in London, the opportunity presented itself for me to volunteer as a carer of some sort, which I did.
Not being the easiest of people to read, it was taught trying to get to know my aunt. Where other family members would be loving and openly giving as many hugs and kisses as possible, she was very to the point and methodical. Everything she did was for a specific reason and the way she did things was decided by her previous trial and errors, so if you tried to do anything your own way she was quick to question your motivations for deciding on that specific action. I often felt awkward and unsettled by the fact I couldn’t openly be totally ‘me’, always watching my grammar and pronunciation as well as always double checking her opinion on how I was stacking the dishwasher or making her bed.
It was my aunt who taught me how to do ‘hospital corners’. I remember her being pretty shocked that I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about until she showed me. That is one lesson I will never forget.
Over the course of months and months it turned out that she actually enjoyed my company. Although she never said those words and definitely didn’t laugh at my (obviously) hilarious jokes, she was amused by what came out of my large gob, always challenged my thoughts (in a good way) and always always had time for me. It became a companionship of necessity but I loved knowing that I was keeping her company when perhaps nobody else would have been there.
At this point it’s maybe worth mentioning that my aunt had been single for approximately the last 20 years and so was single, also had no children, lived in north London when most of the wider family lived 200 miles north, and (as far as we know) had many friends, but only a small handful that saw her often. Although they were there when she was sick, they obviously had their own lives and families and so not only did they not have all the time to spend with her but also my aunt didn’t want to feel like she was imposing on them.
I wish she hadn’t felt like she was imposing.
My company was not requested enough, considering how much I could have been there. I didn’t want to push myself on her but reminded her constantly that I’d be there in a heartbeat if she needed me. Or just wanted me to be there. The thought of anybody being lonely is horrific, especially knowing she was suffering physically. Never mind emotionally. How on earth do you go through that without having someone right there with you?!
Bereavement hasn’t yet begun for my aunt or the void she left in my life, but I think about her often. I saved an orchid from her house after she passed which I’m trying my best to care for, and that reminds me of how she loved her plants and growing beautiful flowers, inside her home and in the garden.
Hopefully this blog will act as my therapy in talking about my aunt, and hopefully I am able to talk about all of the things I remember her for and love about her. Nobody will ever replace her, and nobody will come close. She was absolutely one in a million – a clever, independent, focussed, caring and beautiful human being.