This is my aunt, Arlene. She passed away in hospice care on Monday after being diagnosed with cancer a little over a month ago. She was happy and healthy, until suddenly she wasn't. Arlene survived scarlet fever at age four that left her physically and mentally challenged. She was a wonderful, complicated person, at times acting like a mischievous seven-year-old, and then being so insightful as to take my breath away.
She was kind and she was funny. She loved holidays and animals, and watching anything Dick Van Dyke was in on television. She remembered everyone she met. She was an unrepentant flirt. She was stubborn and sometimes cranky. She loved to be included in any task, even if it was just to "supervise." She also loved to bicker with her mother and stepfather, and sometimes with Dean and me when we lived with my grandparents for a time. She lived for people to come visit her. She loved coloring and stringing beads. Birthdays weren't just one day to celebrate for her, she lived for them, counting down the months and days until the next one (because presents showed up all month long). Arlene would always give me little things she'd made or things she had. I would send her cards with sheets of stickers for the albums of photos she loved to keep.
She lived a good long life. She wasn't in pain, even near the end. I visited her just after she was diagnosed, and Dean and I visited a couple of weeks ago. We got to talk about her life, things she liked, events she remembered, and people she loved who were gone. My father, her conservator, didn't want anyone to tell her directly what was going on, and specifically asked me not to do so myself, but I begged him to at least ask the hospice people to make sure she understood as well as she could what was happening to her, so that she wouldn't be afraid. I'm not sure if anyone did, but I think she figured out a lot of what was going on by herself. During our last visit, Arlene told us, unprompted, that she was going to have a new home soon, "in a month or so," and that she was happy to be going, which nearly made the both of us cry. And when I asked her where her new home was, she raised her arms in an expansive gesture, and said "Far, far away."
It's extremely difficult for me to talk about this. I want to forget. I want to be distracted. I want to shut down and compartmentalize because it's easier than dealing with the pain. Talking about it makes it more real and means breaking down in tears all the damned time, but if I don't, then it builds up until the tears come anyway. I don't know how to ask for help. I
know even less how to accept it without fighting it, without feeling weak and like a failure. I've been feeling like this since my grandmother died, a year before Greg did, and now, Arlene is gone too.
She loved me very much, and I loved her. Now she's gone, and I miss her terribly.