There are moments in all of our lives when everything changes like that. The moments when you physically feel a shift occur. When the pieces fall out of place. When the ground drops from underneath you.
For me, one of those moments came when I was a sophomore in college. I was working a bake sale to raise money for a trip to New Mexico I was taking for a course called "Navajos of the Southwest". My boyfriend at the time and I were manning the table in between classes when a call came in from my dad.
"Danne, I have to tell you something. Can you talk?”
“Aunt Carol died. Uncle George found her this morning.”
I remember being physically taken aback. I stopped. Everything stopped. The tears started to fall. The grief slowly washing over. The memory is still so vivid to me.
My Aunt Carol had lupus. She was diagnosed in her 30s and suffered from the disease for most of her adult life. She would get flare-ups from time to time, the disease attacking different parts of her body, and I remember her being very sick for a lot of my childhood. In so much pain that her doctors often couldn’t do anything to help her. So heavily medicated that she wasn’t herself. Even as a small child I could see that.
But despite how sick she was, that’s not what I remember about her. What I remember is an Aunt who loved me more than I could have known at the time. A love that I only really began to understand after her passing when her husband, my Uncle George, handed me a package that included every single drawing, note, letter, and card that I had ever written to her. All perfectly preserved. “She loved you so much Deedee”, he said.
She loved children and she and I had a special bond. At family gatherings when most of the adults were busy socializing with each other, she made time for me. She always did. We colored, and played, and laughed. She traveled down to the Cape for my dance recitals, birthday parties, and high school graduation. She always put together special gift bags for me for my birthday and Christmas. She taught me how to knit when I was old enough. Wrote me letters when I went away to college.
She called me "Danne-Frannie". I called her "Aunt Carrie".
Losing her, my favorite aunt, was so sad for me. Sadder than I think I realized at the time. It was the first real loss I had experienced in my life. And one that still brings me to tears 14 years later.
I remember a moment earlier this year after Dan and I eloped and my mother-in-law threw us a celebratory brunch. At one point I looked down at the beautifully set table and noticed little handwritten name tags at each table setting. Right next to each other were “Helen” and “Carol”, not only the names of my new mother and sister-in-law, but also the names of my late Grandmother and Aunt, two women who were immeasurably special to me growing up. And two women whom I wished so much could have been there with me that day, but whose presence was clearly and undeniably felt.
I have to say, the older I get, the less and less I believe in coincidence. ✨
Each month this year I've been making a small donation to a different charity. For December, the month we lost my Aunt Carrie, I'm making my donation to the Lupus Foundation of America in her honor. ❤️