My aunt died a week ago today. No one was expecting it. She’d been sick, but didn’t want her family to worry about her, so she avoiding the doctor and covered for herself for the past few years. She was single, with no kids, so although her actions seemed a bit odd, none of her close relatives thought anything of it, until last Wednesday morning. Eric & I were woken up during a snowstorm around 5:30 AM by a phone call from my cousin Jen. Auntie Jo was in the hospital. The details were foggy but they needed my mom’s phone number. After hanging up, and since we were up so early, Eric & I decided to head out in the bad weather to check out this local donut place that’s known for being amazing but is only open in the morning. As we drove, I thought about Auntie Jo and how I hadn’t seen her lately, and I should give her a call and go for a visit, maybe bring her flowers in the hospital. Halfway there, right outside the high school that my mom, my aunt, and I all went to, Jen called again.
Auntie Jo had passed away. I felt like I’d been blown clear by an explosion. I’d never had a loved one die so suddenly. It still doesn’t seem real. I know death happens to every living thing and people go through the passing of someone they know all the time but… it doesn’t seem… right. It’s difficult to explain. When my grandfather died almost 5 years ago he’d been in and out of rest homes and the hospital for a while, we’d all known it was coming for a long time. But… I never thought there would ever be a time with no Auntie Jo. I thought she’d always be there, at her house in Colchester with the big old dogs, the shelves covered in nutcrackers, drinking wine coolers on the back porch. I cried in our car, sitting on the side of the road, as snow fell and cars cautiously sneaked by on icy roads. A few days earlier I’d finished reading David Sedaris’ book When You Are Engulfed in Flames. In one essay he mentions coming home from his mother’s funeral, and not being able to understand how the people all around him, driving in their cars and doing yard work, can go about their daily lives, acting as if nothing horrible and sad had just happened.
It’s been really hard this past week to understand. How do you comprehend death? Eric wrote an entire album of songs dealing with death and how we understand it. We’ve literally been talking about this very subject for almost a year now. But with Auntie Jo’s death, this is the first time it’s seemed real; and so confusing.
Family flooded in from all over. Auntie Jo was the eldest of 11 kids, who all have kids of their own and most also have grandkids. Almost 100 relatives total. It’d been years since we’d had a reunion, and the days were packed with catching up and flipping through the thousands of photos that Auntie Jo had kept. The wake was on Sunday, and relatives slowly began heading back home in the days following, with promises of a big 4th of July reunion to bury the ashes. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an emotionally exhausting week.
Life definitely seems a little more precious now.