Friday, June 20, 2008

Aunt Janet...

My Grandmother is the strongest woman I've ever known. After moving to the United States from the Philippines, she raised her five children almost alone. This wasn't easy for her, a single, Filipina woman raising a family, but she did it. She worked herself to the bone and all the while also took care of the men she took on--none of whom, from what I know of them, was worthy of the attention and love she gave.

Beginning with my father, the last five years of her life have been plagued by death. First him, then her sister, then her son-in-law (the Uncle who most influenced me to join the military), then her husband and now, her daughter.

While I love my Aunt Janet, and will always remember the weeks I spent in Tennessee with her and Uncle Z shooting, fishing and otherwise doing all the things my own father never let me do, I can only imagine what my Grandmother must be feeling now. She always jokes about just waiting until she "kicks the bucket," but I can't help but know that she is at a period in her life where she's seen enough death, said goodbye to enough loved ones and been through enough that she is only partially joking.

At this point, I have lost enough friends and family to cancer that I am begining to take it personally. I know how difficult and painful it was for my father and I know that it was worse for my Aunt. All I know is that it is not something I am looking forward to, but it is something I have resigned myself to. How strange a thing that is, but it is true. With the history of cancer in my family, it is not a matter of if, but when, and the knowledge of that has probably effected me in ways I should not let it.

Part of me thought it was beautiful how my mother took care of my father when he was dying. How she'd lie in bed with him and caress his sweaty, strained forehead when he could no longer speak...and yet another part of me was horrified. I was unsure if that kind of selfless love was so beautiful I wanted to know someone would be there for me like my mother was or so painful that I didn't ever want to be close enough to someone that I would have to put them through it.

Aunt Janet's husband did not have to go through this with her but was instead, I believe, waiting for her on the other side.

The last few years of her life were marked with declining mental capacity. The schizophrenia (if that is truly what she was displaying) that her and her brother have suffered had grown much worse since the last time I'd seen her and she was a shell of the woman I knew as a child. My Uncle Z was patient with her up until his surprising death and part of me feels that her death is, if anything, a release from the pain, suffering and torment her illness had caused her. I like to imagine that the two of them are together again, but that she is the woman she once was...beautiful and kind with a smile I only remember from pictures. Young and carefree, they can be together and share a love again that wont end.

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”



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