NOTE: This post was written in January of 2016-- just two months after my aunt suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. It has taken me this long to post this because the hurt is still so real and so strong.
*In memory of my Aunt Robyn.
She was only 52. That's too young.
She was my success story for Type One Diabetes. So successful, in fact, that some people whom she worked with, didn't even know she had diabetes at all.
I was just getting back around to the point in my life when I was going to start texting her more frequently for advice in dealing with Type One.
I wasn't done asking questions.
I wasn't done enjoying the sound of her laugh.
I wasn't done watching my mom in the role of big sister.
I wasn't done.
This will never be something that I understand. I'll never know why she passed at such a young age.
It was just so odd to be in her home and have her not be there; to be wandering around and looking at the pictures she chose to display, and the way her counter-tops looked, and what magnets she had on her fridge, and not have her smiling face appearing from the hallway asking if anyone would like a drink or a snack.
She was the cheerleader in my life. She always chose to have a positive outlook on things.
In the summer of 2008 when many of my family members met up at my grandparents' beach cottage to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, my aunt was there and she was the light of positivity. I was in the throes of applying to law schools and battling the slim chances of acceptance. I was discussing this with my uncle (the husband of my mom's older sister) who is a lawyer, and his oldest son (who had attended law school for a year). I remember my aunt being in the room as I told my uncle that this school (Columbia in Manhattan-- my dream school) accepted 300 students out of about 1,200 who applied. My uncle said "those aren't good odds" and my aunt replied "Someone's gotta be the 300." She looked at me and smiled, nodded her head, and asked if anyone wanted to go for a walk.
My aunt was also always around when we needed her most.
When I was a young girl (probably about 10 years old), my aunt was visiting us over the Thanksgiving holidays. Probably the day after Thanksgiving, my dad was outside in the shed cutting up deer meat. My mom and I went out to check on him, and then we hear him yell my mom's name. He had sliced his knuckle nearly completely off. My mom had to take him to the emergency room, and my aunt was there at our house to watch me and my brothers. I remember it seemed to take so long for them to get home, and I asked my aunt how long it might be. I remember the worried look on her face that she quickly hid and replaced it with a confident look and said "They'll be home soon. Don't worry." And I didn't worry. I trusted her.
When I was 21, my aunt was visiting us over her birthday weekend (which also coincided with Mother's Day weekend). My dad went out that morning on his motorcycle to shop for a Mother's Day gift for my mom. In the mid-afternoon, my aunt laid down in the recliner for a nap, I went to my room to read, my soon-to-be-sister-in-law hung out in the living room, and my mom answered her ringing phone. Within seconds, my sister-in-law was knocking on my door telling me that my mom was in the kitchen on the phone and crying. I ran to my mom, saw the seriousness of her tears, heard her saying "no, no, no, no" and I knew something was horribly wrong. I leaned back into the living room and screamed "Aunt Robyn!" and my aunt grabbed the armrest on the recliner, sprung to her feet, and came into the kitchen with me and my sister-in-law as we held onto my mom and heard her tell us that my dad was in a horrific motorcycle accident, and the life flight helicopter was on the way and that she would get a phone call once they knew whether they were taking my dad to Birmingham or Montgomery.
My aunt immediately placed a call to her boss to tell him that she would be staying with us for an extended amount of time. She was around when we needed her, and she stuck to us when we needed her strength.
Long story short, my dad survived. He experienced a 2-week medically induced coma, a month long hospital stay, months of physical therapy, and years of recovery.
But he and I both cling to the memory that my aunt was there to help. She was with us in our time of need and she didn't bat an eye when it came to staying longer than anticipated.
She lived about three hours away from me. She lived in the same town as my older brother, so whenever I visited him, I'd get to visit her too. I didn't get to see her too often. In fact, during the last two years, I'd probably see her about 3 times a year. Therefore, months could go by where I wouldn't see her but I always knew she'd respond to texts and Facebook messages. I had asked her a couple questions this fall about insulin changes that I was preparing to go through with Michael (my oldest son-- he's 3-- with Type One Diabetes).
I got to see my aunt at the birthday party for my nephew (my older brother's son). She came to the party and laughed and enjoyed herself. We gave each other "the eye" and a stifled laugh when my nephew squirmed at the hugs of other family members. We made eye contact and each opened our eyes wide at the squeals ensuing when my 3-year-old son and my nephew (who turned 3) each wanted the same toy at the same time. I programmed Michael's insulin pump and counted his carbs for his lunch as I sat across the table from her. I saw her give a gracious smile as some family member unintentionally set the whole bowl of potato salad in front of her. I whispered in my mom's ear to move the potato salad since my aunt couldn't do it--and wouldn't do it for fear of insulting the family member. My mom and aunt had cups of coffee and watched the Auburn game and spoke of the recent things going on in their lives. I chased my kids and made sure I was the only one doing that-- and that my mom could have an uninterrupted visit with my aunt. I gave my aunt a hug goodbye and watched her drive away in her car.
48 hours later, I was told she passed away.
I knew something was wrong the minute my husband came inside, threw his lunch box down, came over to me and hugged me. I said "Is everything ok?" I figured he was told he'd have to work out of town or something. He just had this look on his face like things were not right.
"Aunt Robyn passed away in the night" he said.
I shook my head as I tried to process the words he had spoken. I think I even smiled because I was certain he was joking. "No she didn't" I said back to him.
He nodded, and he was not smiling.
I shook my head again. "No. She didn't. I just saw her!"
He said "I know. I know." He gave me another hug.
I started to bawl. "But how??? And how do you know before I did?"
He said my mom called his mom (they're neighbors) and my mom asked his mom to call him and tell him. My mom knew she wouldn't be able to tell me and hold it together.
I couldn't wrap my head around it and I was in a fog for a solid 24 hours. I hardly slept that night. I cried the whole next day. I'm surprised I got any work done at all. The memorial service was a couple days later. My sister-in-law and I sang "Holy Spirit" by Francesca Batistelli. The weight of mourning in the funeral home was dense and oppressive. But I still couldn't believe she was gone.
Today, her car sits in my driveway. And it's the car that makes this real. Until receiving the car, I could pretend she was still here. I only saw her every couple months, so I could pretend for a while that everything was fine. But seeing her car sitting in my driveway takes away the ability to pretend. It makes it real and very finite.
I miss her so. I'm so joyful for the fact that our last visit together was such a happy one filled with family and laughter. The sorrow today is real. It's not getting easier. I will miss her everyday.
I will honor her life in the way that I manage my son's diabetes. I will never give up on making sure he receives the top care available. I will never back down when it comes to getting him the supplies that he needs. I will be the cheerleader for my family, the way that my aunt was for us. I will remember the things that made her happy, and I will choose to think joyfully that she would be happy in knowing that we were finding happiness.
In loving memory to Aunt Robyn. The hurt is real, but I'm choosing to dwell on the happy times you had and the way you made us feel in your happiness.
Until next time,
Much love, Reba