My aunt has Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years, we have watched her slowly lose her ability to walk, to eat, to hold someone’s hand, to speak. She has suffered from numbness, loss of vision, bed sores, pneumonia. She has gone from living independently to living with her mother, then to an assisted living facility and, finally, to a nursing home.
My aunt has always had a strong personality. As kids, we knew instinctively not to cross her. In the middle of an epic mud fight, my sister threatened to tell our aunt on us. By the end of the fight, three out of the four of us were covered from head to toe in black, sticky creek mud. My sister had one perfectly round mud splatter on her white T-shirt from the one and only mud ball thrown her way – none of us were willing to risk the wrath of Auntie Patti.
As I got older, my aunt and I didn’t always get along. I didn’t agree with many of her opinions about how I should behave and some of her decisions made me angry, especially when they involved her mother, my grandmother. Unlike the rest of my family, I had few qualms about telling her my own opinion, however uninformed or insensitive. I guess we were more alike than I liked to admit back then. But no matter how often or how vehemently we disagreed, I always knew that she loved me and would do anything for me.
I miss arguing with my aunt. She can no longer use her tongue to make a sarcastic comment about how often I do the dishes, or to tell my girls the story of the day she told my sister to hit me back (and she hit me so hard I flew across the train), or to remind me to be good to my mother. But there are other ways to communicate. I saw her wry smile when I told her about our ‘new to us’ dishwasher. I saw the tears of joy and pride in her eyes when I introduced her to her great-nieces. I hear her voice in my head whenever I even think about responding disrespectfully to my mother. And I know I will hear her snorting back laughter when my sister tells my girls the story of the day she hit me back and I flew all the way across the train.
Happy 65th Birthday Auntie Patti.