One year ago today my aunt, my mum’s big sister died. I had a lot to deal with at the time and pretty much shut down. Now I feel it is something I can talk about a little and I want to tell the story of her difficult life and a little of my (extended) family history.
My mum was one of 9 children and grew up in a small country town, the same small town that I grew up in. My aunt, mum’s oldest sister married and had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys and together they lived in their childhood home alongside her parents. In my memory, their home was always busy and crazy. With other family members (my family and mum’s twin sisters family) living in the same town, a mere 2 blocks away, their house was always filled with love and madness. Nan would be sitting in her wheel chair by the pot bellied stove even when the stove wasn’t on in the middle of summer. Mum and her sisters would sit around in the lounge talking with nan and each other. We would be running around in the yard or in the paddock out back.
Every time one of the dozen or so cousins had a birthday it was off to Nan’s for cake. It wasn’t a real birthday party but with so many kids around it always felt like a party. We would all stand around the ginormous wooden table in the kitchen area singing happy birthday and eating cake.
I don’t remember much about my Pa, he died when I was only 4. What I do remember was Pa driving to our house every day to deliver the mail. I would wait anxiously by the rusty side gate every day, waiting for the mail, waiting to see Pa. I also don’t remember much about my aunt’s husband. He worked away from town weekdays and would return to town for the weekends. He was a typical country bloke and spent much of his time at the local pub. From what I understand, he was a good bloke who would be the first to help out a mate in need. He was killed in a tragic accident, helping a friend who’s truck had broken down.
I can still remember sitting in class, in the middle classroom with Mr Ryan when my cousin was called out of the class. I saw his older sisters also being taken from their classrooms. I couldn’t work out why they got to go home early, it wasn’t fair. The rest of the day was a blur but I remember everyone in shock and crying. I remember sitting in the back seat of a broken down car with my cousins talking about the unfairness of it all. We, the other cousins, weren’t allowed to go to the funeral so we all stood on the oval at school watching the funeral procession as it left the church that was on the hill directly behind the school We made plans to all run away together, to escape the sadness. That was more than 25 years ago.
After my uncle died, my aunt lived to help other people. She nursed my nan, looked after her kids, struggled through life, kept herself busy and avoided the real world. Tragedy hit yet again when my nan died. I remember hearing that nan was dead as I arrived at a netball match in Shepp East. Again the cousins all got together and wondered why we didn’t run away years ago, to avoid even more hurt and pain. We were allowed to go to this funeral, it was the first funeral I had attended. I don’t remember the service but I remember standing out at the cemetery, watching the coffin being lowered into the ground, wishing I weren’t there, being consoled by older women of the community telling us that it would be alright but how could it ever be alright?
My aunt continued to avoid the world, instead giving to her children to help them to succeed. In what seems to be tradition for the family, her oldest daughter never moved out of the family home. When my aunt’s children had children she was always first to baby sit, to drive them to and from events, always helping out. When her oldest daughter fostered 3 children she opened her home and her heart to them. The traditions continued, their house was always crazy and filled with love, although now it was also filled with sadness and loneliness.
A few years ago, when the youngest of my aunt’s children was to be married my aunt had a fall, a serious fall. She broke her hip and her wrist and was unable to make it to the wedding. This fall was the first time that she had been to the doctor since her husband died. She was in hospital a long time and there were major health complications, including cancer. After not having been to a doctor for more than 20 years, she spent much more time in a doctors office or a hospital. She spent her last few months in intense pain but as usual surrounded by family; brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. She never once complained about the pain, or the suffering she had endured during her life, she was brave to the very end, until she said she had had enough.
I miss my aunt, I hate seeing her children, grandchildren and her siblings so heartbroken, she was a brave woman who had a difficult life. Her struggles make me realise just how lucky I am.