I know death. I have seen it. I have been witness to more passings than I care to count. I have done my part to thwart it yet still I know that it is inevitable. We start dying from the day we’re born. For some it comes quickly and without pain and for others it is a long drawn out process.
My aunt is dying. The colon cancer that was once thought to be in remission has metastasized to her liver, lungs, bones, spine and God only knows where else. The oncologist told her that it is spreading faster than the chemotherapy can treat it. It has shown up in so many places that they would have to irradiate her entire body if they wanted to hit every tumor. And so she has decided to stop treatment.
I know it wasn’t an easy decision to come to, her husband begged her to keep trying, but she has known for some time that it would come to this. In two weeks time since stopping the treatment she has begun to die. It isn’t so much that I harbor any special relationship with my aunt. I love her, but we have never been particularly close. I have handled death many times before, and I am sad- I can’t bear to look at photos of her and her grandchildren without crying, but I know that I will process this. I mourn for my mother’s sake. It isn’t as though she shares some mystical bond with her sister, but they commiserate together, they love one another. Hell, my aunt worries how my mother will manage being the only one in town to care for my grandfather. My mother is losing her sister and though she has known for months that this time would come her heart is still breaking and so I cry for her. I cry for my grandfather who will bury his daughter soon. I cry for my cousins who will bury their mother. I cry for my uncle who will bury his bride. I cry for her grandchildren who are too young to truly know their grandmother and who will never get to know her as adults.
In the course of one afternoon it was announced that my aunt would go under hospice care, have a morphine PCA and a visit from the parish priest. My mother thought that the morphine was a bad sign, but everyone ends up on a PCA of some sort. The bad sign was really the fact that the priest would come for the last rites, or the anointing of the sick as it is now called. My aunt spoke at length with the priest and the priest asked a favor of her. He asked her that when she crosses over and when she meets Jesus if she would ask Him to pray for him. Now I don’t know if this is just a genuine, heartfelt request or also perhaps a way of giving her permission. I know that my aunt has made peace with her fate, but I can’t help but think that this was the priest’s way of letting her know that it’s okay to go when the time comes.
My mother visited my aunt the other day, before she was transported to the Hospice House, my mother lay in bed with my aunt and talked and cried and talked some more and my aunt told her that she asked the priest if it would be okay for a Beatles song to be playing at the end of the funeral as the casket is taken out of the church, because she didn’t want her friends to be sad. And so sometime soon after she passes, her funeral will close with this and I will try to smile and remember all of the wonderful things about her.
I love you Aunt Jackie. May you find rest.