My aunt Fran passed away last Saturday. It was one of the most horrific days of my entire life. She had been battling Soft Tissue Sarcoma for two years and even though we were aware that it was incurable, we had hope. Because what else is there in life if you don't have hope? My aunt Fran was braver than any human being I have ever known, but I only really saw her bravery when this disease came into our lives. She battled sarcoma with everything she had and she did not lose faith for one minute. She stayed positive and upbeat and didn't let the disease take over.
The hardest part about her battle was what it did to her physically. She lost her hair, her ability to walk and her independence. But she continued living on the sunny side of life. She refused to dwell in the darkness of "Why Me?" She wasn't a victim. Fran remained excited about the little things and allowed them to bring her happiness; a nice dinner, visits with family and friends, a good TV show. That's how she lived her life before the illness and that's how she was determined to live her life after the diagnosis.
I read an article in today's Boston Globe about terminal patients refusal to understand the reality of their own mortality. The article clearly explains that this is something that needs to be addressed by health care professionals. I completely understand the direction of this article, but having seen it from the other side, I think my aunt's determination to not accept her negative prognosis is what allowed her to live, truly live, those last months and days of her life.
Now I'm not saying that we don't need a stronger, more emotionally balanced approach to helping people deal with end-of-life plans. Death is an uncomfortable discussion that people need to have. We need to know the wishes of our loved ones. But we also need to have professionals who can help them deal with the emotional impact their disease is having on their life.
We created a memorial site in her name to record any memories that friends or family wanted to express. Here is what I posted:
My aunt Fran is so much more than the few words I can use to fill up this simple square of a guest book. She was silly and caring and fun. She loved the little things and her enthusiasm was infectious. She was fearless and brave and bossy. She loved her friends and her family and made everyone feel special. She was happy and curious and real. She was so much to so many people. She was my aunt and my friend and my life will never ever be the same without her. I miss her so much that even typing these words makes my heart ache. I can't imagine life without her, but I am thankful for the time we had together. I love you Fran!
As the week following Fran's death passed by in a blur of tears and phone calls from worried friends and family, I found myself constantly looking back, remembering happy times when everyone I loved was healthy and together. I found it completely appropriate that Memorial Day arrived just as I was coming out of my haze of mourning. I spent this Memorial Day weekend packing up my aunt's belongings, flipping through old pictures and trying to grasp the finality of death. I don't understand it. I never will. But I know I will grow stronger every day because that is what we do, as human beings. We break and we get stronger in the broken parts. I will never be the same girl that I saw in those innocent pictures from the past. But I am so much more now. I have experienced tremendous sorrow and I have survived. I am brave and I am strong. Because of Fran I will live in the sunny side of life, as she taught me to do, during the darkest hours of her own short life.