“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike
In 2007, when I was a student at the University of Kansas, my parents drove to Lawrence to, from what I was told, visit me and see me perform in the marching band. What I didn’t know is that they had also come to tell me my aunt was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Cancer and I have a really awful relationship. I met it young; my Grandma Jean died of it when I was 8, and my grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side both died of it a few years later. I was never very fond of cancer. It is a disease so awful that it takes people away from you slowly while you must watch. You can do nothing. It’s a form of torture, almost.
So, needless to say, I was distressed when I first heard my aunt had cancer. I felt a mixture of things. I felt angry and sad, but I also felt hopeful. My aunt had had cancer before and beat it. She also had a son, two years older than me, and a family that she cared deeply about. I had faith in her spirit, in her ability to want to live above the disease causing her to die.
I believe she fought until the day she passed a year later. I was 20 years old. My cousin Joel was 22. My mom lost her best friend. My cousin lost his mother. I lost someone who had been in my life for more than two decades.
We needed some time to get over it. It got better, but I sometimes wonder if we ever will be over it, if it is even possible.
Her son, Joel, will be married next weekend to his fiancée, Christine. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, my aunt has been on my mind. I had never really gotten closure after her death, and I felt I needed to before I went to this wedding. It just seemed like the right time.
I never talked about her death right after it happened. I just kind of shut it all out. I was too upset to be reflective. But recently, I have been. I’ve realized her death was just a small blip in the life she had.
For my parents, she was a dear friend. A confidante. A family when my mother’s real family failed her. A person to laugh and cry with. Someone loyal. They probably won’t find someone like that again. But they have so many good things to remember and be fond over, and in that way, she hasn’t died. She was a dedicated and loving mother and wife. The same goes here. Physically, no, that can never be replaced, but the memories live. I can’t even imagine how much my cousin must miss her every day, especially now, leading up to his wedding, but I assume there is some comfort taken in that.
So that leaves me. What my aunt left behind with me were the ideas of kindness and love. She was always a gentle woman. She loved animals, especially cats. She loved cooking and sharing recipes. She loved cross-stitching. And most of all, she loved us and we loved her.
That is what I realized I wanted to keep from her. It didn’t matter if we were mad at each other, just too busy to talk or whatever the case, she was always there. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Joel’s graduation, my graduation, just because; she was always in the patchwork of my life. That took up more time in my memories than the last year. That, and the love she gave me and others will never die because that love, those memories live on in me and Joel and my mom and my uncle Jim and my dad. That love will be there at a farm next weekend wishing the newlywed couple well.
That happy memory will embed itself with others. The bad will never be gone, but it can be subdued by the happy. That’s what I realized. I wanted to remember the memories that were good. Not the ending.
I’ve never been super religious. I don’t read The Bible, and I have never been involved in church.
I do happen to believe in fate and I’d like to think there is some metaphysical place where we go when our final breath is taken. Where that is and what it is, I have no idea, but wherever it is, I hope my aunt has a front-row seat for next weekend.
I hope she realizes that the love she had for us and the good memories she left will remain forever and that it’s all there in one place, even though physically she is not. This realization has given me some peace with her death, which I think I’ve needed for a long time. I will pass that love and kindness she left with me on, and I know her son and his new wife will do the same.
In this way, she will be immortal.