The past few months have been rough. I received the call recently that my aunt had finally passed away from stage 4 Leukemia. I found it odd that her husband met the same fate 8 years ago. Nevertheless, she was placed in hospice after refusing treatment on February 19th. Usually, when I see people enter hospice, I know it can be a matter of days before their demise.
Saying goodbye to my aunt
Therefore, upon learning of her decision not to continue treatment, I packed my bags and made the 5 hour drive to Atlanta. She was my aunt and I wanted to tell her that I would see her later in person. Additionally, I knew my dad needed some time with his older sister and would also need one of his daughters by his side.
On February 19th, when I arrived, my cousin picked my father and me up and took us to visit. My father is getting older and frailer. I had just driven 5 hours and neither of us was up to making another drive to the Northside of Atlanta.
We want to know we aren't alone
This is the same woman who held my hand during her husband's wake and would not let go. When I looked in her eyes, I saw so much of myself. If I could fast forward 40 years, I think we would have looked exactly alike. During his wake those 8 years ago, I hadn't yet been diagnosed with lung cancer. And of all her brothers and sisters and child and grandchildren, she chose me to stay by her side.
Many of you know, I am a very sarcastic and overall silly person. I was surprised when she made this gesture. My wisecracks and morbid humor weren't appropriate. Instead, I stoically held on to her hand as people passed by, giving condolences. We only spoke a few words this day. She needed someone there and someone to talk, suggest or advise. She needed that silent comfort that so many of us do, yet we never ask. We don't want to put anyone out or be that "Debbie downer". But we want to know we aren't alone.
Standing by our father
Upon learning of her passing on Wednesday, my sister made the grueling trip with her 4 year old and 2 year old from Camp Lejune. It wasn't our aunt that needed us now. It was our father. He was so close to his sister and loved her more than words can describe. He spent the 4 days before she passed with her, something he is so grateful for. I last saw her in February, still beautiful, but cancer had taken its toll.
I spoke at the funeral and recounted some of the past for my father before delving into 1 Corinthians 13:4-13. The stories I told on his behalf were those of the pure and innocent love for a brother and his sister. As I was speaking and looking out among the crowd, I caught my sister's eyes, full of tears. She sat on one side of my father and me on the other.
After the service, we made our way to the burial site. At this point, it became too much for my dad to bare. We were basically holding him up and he had to sit in the car as they placed her coffin in the mausoleum. He told me he couldn't watch her being placed in there.
I haven't seen my father cry much in his lifetime, but he did this day. He eventually had to return to the car and sit because he couldn't handle this part of the service.
A humbling reminder of my own condition
After it commenced, we made our way to our aunt's house. This had to be so hard on my cousin, an only child.
I rode to the funeral with my sister as we were both staying at my mom's. My sister means well and never wants me to be sad about my diagnosis or the people I lose. We were sharing a bed at my mother's house, just like when we were kids. As I was taking my nightly dose of an indescribable amount of medication, I suddenly felt sick. She was in the room with me and quickly grabbed a trash can. I barely made it. Then, she went to the kitchen and got me a ginger ale.
On her way back to the room, she stopped my mother in the hallway and asked if my medication made me sick sometimes. My mom explained to her many of the side effects. I'm not sure if she just wanted to stay in denial that or that she too realized she may one day be that "only child" making decisions or wasn't aware of the seriousness of this cancer. As she walked in the room, the tears began to slowly trickle from her eyes. I'll never forget the look she gave me.
My sister, my silver lining
After 6 years, she finally understood. She began hugging me and telling me I would never be alone. And, if I were to get sicker, she would move me in with her. She was finally able to see what I was trying to explain to her for 6 years. I need people like me in my life to relate too. But, I also can't do it alone.
The moment was so touching that I held back my own tears, overjoyed that my little sister finally understood me. I love her so much and couldn't imagine a life without her in it. And although we rarely see each other and this reason was for our aunt passing from cancer, there was a silver lining. She finally got it. I couldn't be more proud of the beautiful, caring mother she has become. God gives and God takes away. And we may not know it, but there are reasons. There was another silver lining to come out of all this, but I will save that for another day.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?