Tomorrow will bring both joy and sorry. In the morning I will watch my daughters perform in their first ballet concert. My eyes will well with tears of love and pride as I watch them pirouette and plie on stage. And then, in the afternoon, I will gather with my family to farewell my late auntie’s home. We will laugh, and we will cry as we reflect on the many happy memories created and shared in that home.
It’s been less than six months since she died. I remember my family’s shock as we immediately plunged into grief, upon hearing her diagnosis. We had little preparation. We were told that she didn’t have long, but no one predicted that she would live for less than four weeks.
When it was time for me to say goodbye, I felt sick with grief. The finality of my last visit filled me disbelief and despair. You see, she was so much more than an auntie; she was a second mum to me and my sisters – a confidante, a friend. One of the best. I wanted more time with her. I wanted more conversations. I wanted more family celebrations.
For 39 years her home gifted me with so many happy memories. My early childhood years were punctuated by sleepovers, billie cart races and swims in their backyard pool. It was a modest, above ground, no frills variety but we thought it was the best. We spent many a summer afternoon jumping in and out of that pool, playing Marco polo and running amok while our parents were nowhere to be seen. Pool safety wasn’t the concern it is these days. And if they were watching, they were usually sipping their G&T’s and paying us little attention. We loved it.
But it was in my adult years that my love and respect for my auntie grew even more. She was a great supporter of my adventure-seeking streak and she encouraged me to travel and embrace my creative side. She “got” what I was looking for in life. She also got what I was looking for in love. In fact, she had a hand in introducing me to Mr NASD. Yes, it was my auntie who believed we would be a good match. It turns out, she was right about that too.
Upon having children of my own, as if often the case, my respect for the mother figures in my life skyrocketed. She was so happy to see me become a mum. I remember introducing her to Miss A as though it were yesterday. She and my mum came into the hospital and rather than being greeted by a radiant and euphoric new mum, they were met with a very pale and sick mum and a crying baby. I handed Miss A over so quickly and asked them to pass me a vomit bag and call the nurse. I watched as they both held my baby with experienced hands that soothed her into an immediate sleep. It was rather mesmerising. I wondered if I would ever be so capable.
So it was with a heavy heart and aching love that I penned my farewell to my auntie upon hearing her devastating diagnosis. I didn’t feel that I could say everything I wanted to say face to face, so I wrote her a card. If you’ve ever had to write a goodbye card to someone you love dearly you will know it is one of the hardest cards you will ever write. More a thank you card than a farewell card, I wrote of my gratitude. I thanked her for her unwavering support and love. I thanked her for years of cherished and rich childhood memories. And I thanked her for being my mum’s best friend, a love and loyalty between two friends that is rare and blessed.
I was pregnant when I visited her in her home for the last time. It wasn’t official but I was hopeful I was on my way to becoming a mother of four, just like her. Sadly I lost the pregnancy just a few days after her funeral. I clutched my card as I walked towards her house. A cruel sense of injustice and déjà vu met me at the driveway. I had walked up this driveway to say goodbye to her husband, my beloved uncle, who died in the same bedroom from the same cancer 15 years earlier. Yes, life can be that cruel.
It is both confronting and a privilege to have the opportunity to say goodbye. I wanted our time together to be happy so I took in some old family photos that we made us laugh. I also took something certain to make anyone smile, even when facing fear. I took my ipad and showed her a video clip I had filmed earlier that day of the girls dancing around our living room in their ballet costumes. Who wouldn’t smile at the sight of tulle, twirls and carefree cuteness? And smile she did.
Her eyes danced as she held the ipad and gave my girls her full attention. Attention was her greatest attribute and she offered it up generously. When she was with you, she was fully with you. They say that listening, as opposed to hearing, is a rare and powerful quality. She mastered the art of listening without effort. My heart ached as we watched the video together on her bed and in that moment grief and joy enveloped me in stark dichotomy.
Tomorrow, I will watch my girls dance together on stage for their maiden ballet performance. They have improved a little since I took that video! And later in the day we will gather together at my auntie’s home again to give the cherished family home of 50 years a final and fitting farewell. I will walk down the driveway one last time knowing her home represents all that is good about family and connection. And knowing the lady who gifted us with those memories will remain in my heart forever.
Thank you, Auntie J. I will keep talking if you’ll keep listening.
Your loving niece,