Saturday, 29 November 2014

A letter to my aunt, who was taken too soon.

It seems that as the days get shorter and colder, I begin to think of you more and more. Maybe it's the knowledge that we're facing our second Christmas without you, Grandad and Granny, although I won't be in the country for it anyway. Maybe it's because I can still see an image of you from my childhood, wrapped up against the wintery weather in a glamourous coat wearing your trademark red lipstick and smiling as always. I'm not sure what I would say to you if I could speak with you again. Often I imagine all these profound things I could say, questions I might ask you. But really, I suppose, I'd just want to sit with you again and make you laugh with some outlandish tale, some silly anecdote. When I was a child, I saw you as a free-spirited, delicate and vivacious woman, whose house was a chaotic maze of artwork, records and photos, precariously stacked on furniture. I remember when your sons - my cousins - and I created a vast swamp for our toy dinosaurs in the garden using the wastage pipe from the washing machine, and instead of despairing at the mess we'd caused, you celebrated our resourcefulness with laughter and a hose down in the shower. Now that I am in my twenties, I know more about your life when I was growing up and I wonder how you always kept smiling when things got hard. It is hard to remember you in life without recalling the tragedy and shock of your sudden death. The two seem to be irreversibly entwined in my head; I am unable to separate the images of my kind, gentle auntie from the small, dying woman in the hospital bed. The more I remember the way you would do a spritely jig on arrival in any room, the more I compare you to my darling aunt who even without strength grasped my hand in the ICU to ask how work was going. It is hard to imagine that you were both of those people. After thinking deeply, I have a few things I want to tell you: I passed my first year of university. I started just a few months after you left our lives, and on my first day there I thought of how you would have loved to visit me here on my London campus. It's an exciting and vibrant place, with so many people from all over the world. During freshers week, there was music and dance and I just know you would have loved to hear all about it. If it wasn't for your help, I don't know if I would have been able to write such a brilliant personal statement to get onto this course that I love so much. You emailed me back and forth, even though I was on the other side of the world and it was late at night for you. We got my application in before the deadline, and when I received my unconditional offer, I emailed you even before telling my parents. I've kept your reply in a special folder in my inbox. I can speak some Korean and some Japanese now. I think you'd have found it hilarious to hear me speaking in different languages... 사랑해요. 그리고, 정말 보고 싶어요. Both your sons are doing well. They have girlfriends, and I think you would have liked them. The oldest one is having a baby soon, due in May. The youngest is living in a different city now. Last time I saw them both, I made them tomato and lentil soup and we sat and chatted about our childhood, pouring over photographs and trying to remember the funny nicknames my dad had given us all. You always called me Millie May. I always liked that. It was your birthday. They took flowers to your grave and had a toast to you. You're in that lovely cemetery with Granny and Grandad now, and there are flowers and trees everywhere. I regret that I never really said goodbye to you. I'd been in hospital for two days, only leaving to sleep and to eat, and to check on the family members who were staying home with grandad. We worked in shifts those first days. Then on the second night, my mum came back to the family house and told me quietly that you wouldn't be getting better; that you wouldn't be coming home. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was, me sat in Granny's old favourite armchair while the 6 o'clock news was blaring out from the tv and I couldn't do anything but incredulously say "What?" Your younger son hadn't been told at this point. I just sat and cried quietly so that he wouldn't hear from the other room. The doctors weren't sure how long you had. A day, a week... they didn't know. I went home with my dad and my brother, intending to travel back and see you the next day. But when the phone rang at 10pm that evening, I already knew before I picked it up and heard my mum's shaking voice that you were gone. Is it easier if you get time to properly say goodbye? When Grandad fell ill just a month after you, I got a coach to see him and I made sure I had that time with him. I held his hand and sat by his bedside and told him how much I loved him. I couldn't tell you that in the end, but I hope you knew. I hope you knew that you were inspiring, mad, wonderful, funny, generous and one-of-a-kind. You left behind four sisters, a brother, two sons, six nieces and nephews and more friends and people whose lives had been touched by you than I could count. My mum and the second oldest of your siblings gave eulogies at your funeral which made everyone laugh, and cry, and something my mum said will always stay with me: You were like a beautiful fireworks display. You popped, fizzled and lit up people's lives. And like a fireworks display, it was over too soon. You danced your way through life, bringing joy to so many. And I just miss you so very much.