The past few days I woke up early, feeling restless and weird. Uncomfortable.
Yesterday marked one year since I lost one of the incredibles in my life. My lovely aunt died at 68 after a 12 year battle with breast cancer. She was amazing. She touched everyone in her life who crossed her path, right down to strangers in grocery store aisles who became friends by the time they reached the check-out.
I was lucky enough to not only know her, but be enmeshed in her life since I was born. I even lived with her during a time in my troubling high school years when I couldn't exchange greetings with my parents without an altercation. She treated me like a daughter, curfews and all. She is pictured above at my high school senior recital 13 years ago.
For years, I was there when the lumps were present, when they were removed, when they were back but stabilized, when they had spread, but didn't seem to affect her. She was always wildly optimistic and had exceeded doctors expectations every time. She didn't want us to worry, because she always felt fine. So in a way, we didn't.
At the end of the road, I wasn't there. I didn't see the last harrowing months or painful final days. I didn't go to the funeral. At the time, it just wasn't feasible, but thinking about it now, I don't know how I would have coped. I didn't know how to face losing her. Even now, I'm not sure if I did the right thing.
Her life was full, overflowing at times. She was an English and drama teacher, but even busier in her retirement with community involvement, writing, and spending time with her children, grandchildren and hundred closest friends.
A few years ago, I was involved with a fundraiser for Locks of Love and donated my hair in her name. Here are a few words I wrote about her for the benefit.
Two weeks before cutting my hair, my mother and I visited my Aunt Sue. She answered the door with a naked scalp, grinning despite ongoing chemo treatments as she currently battles with breast cancer.
Her husband had just bought her two synthetic wigs for her birthday – a salt and pepper coif for her grandmother days and a blond bob for when she feels sassy. She usually wears the blond one.
“I didn’t need anything fancy,” she said. Though acrylic, the wigs nested in her office with quiet poise. They stayed on their respectable Styrofoam mannequins during the rest of my visit and she opted for the beanie I knitted to keep her head warm.
Telling her I would be donating my hair to Locks of Love made her beam with pride. That look was worth more than four years of snarls and countless bottles of shampoo. When it was time to finally make the cut, I was more than ready to pass on a foot of my hair to someone who can put it to better use.
We will all experience moments in our lives when we fall ill. For those fortunate enough to be healthy, it’s up to us to reach out and support each other in times of need. I am grateful to Locks of Love for providing this opportunity to help so many others. And to one particular woman in my life whose strength will always inspire me, I donate in your name.
Sue, we love and miss you every day, but know you're still with us and always will be.