I awoke to the news that my aunt’s brother had passed away. Although my aunt lives here in the U.S., her family lives an ocean away, and I’ve never met any of them. I didn’t meet her brother, either, but I was overcome with grief when I heard the news. And I still am.
I have a brother. I have two sisters, too.
I spent the whole morning thinking about what it must have been like for my aunt to get that dreaded phone call, the one no one ever wants to take. I must have sobbed for an hour before I’d even gotten out of bed.
Maybe a month ago, my uncle told me that he’d sent my aunt back home to spend time with her brother, who was battling late-stage cancer. There was nothing on Facebook about it, of course, so I was glad he had told me.
Then last week, Facebook had a steady stream of photos of my aunt and uncle in Hawaii, celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary. Knowing about my aunt’s ailing brother, I was happy to see them both smiling so much. It was wonderful to think that they were celebrating in Kauai, one of my favorite places on earth.
Yesterday, my aunt shared a photo of herself with my uncle, wearing flower leis at their hotel in Kauai. The caption had something to do with missing the islands, already.
And then this morning, she posted an old photo of her brother as a young man, and I understood.
I hate how grief sneaks up on us like this. I hate that in an instant, a phone call can turn fond memories of a wedding anniversary into the worst night ever. And I hate that there is nothing I can do about it.
My aunt and uncle live about 1,100 miles away from me and I don’t see them nearly often enough. Today, that fact is excruciating. I want to show up at their house with a casserole. I want to bring DVDs and sit with my aunt and stare at a screen in silence. I want to hug her. I want to hand her tissues and nervously stir in the kitchen, finding things to clean just to pass the time while keeping her company. I just want to be there.
I would take out the trash, because nobody wants to take the trash out when their brother just passed. I would wash the dishes, because no one gives a fuck about dishes when their brother just passed. I would sweep the floors. I would do anything if I thought it would help. I’d even go away if they told me to.
I want to say to my aunt all the words I can think of that might help: “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine your grief. I’m here for you. Please take care of yourself.” And even if I said all of them, I would understand if she stared back at me blankly, knowing, as we both would, that there are no words that can take back that fucking phone call.