Thursday, July 30, 2009
I Miss You!
My aunt (left) and my mom...June or July 1989, right before my sister's wedding
July 30, 1945 - December 20, 2001...
Like Michael sang, "gone too soon." My Aunt Lennie would have been 64 today. Esophogeal cancer. What was crazy is that she had stopped smoking years prior. But she said she felt like she had some kind of blockage in her throat. I think she knew something was wrong, and that's why she waited so long to get it checked out. Had she gotten it checked out sooner, would she still be here? We'll never know.
Aunt Lennie was my mom's youngest sister...the youngest of my grandmother's 6 kids. She was the life of the party. She made family gatherings so fun, because she was always being crazy. We have lots of photos of her just making silly faces. She was always there for us. She never had any kids, but she was like a second mom for us. If my mom decided to take us to Darien Lake (which is now a Six Flags park), she would be along to help with the driving. If I remember correctly, she is the one who got my brother into bowling.
She and my mom were really close. They had each other's backs. They used to always act silly together, but my mom knew if she needed something, she could count on Aunt Lennie. Back when my brothers were toddlers, my grandmother lived with us. My brother Jay had done something bad (who knows what he did, lol). He got a spanking. He was full of theatrics and that prompted my grandmother to say something to my mom about the way she was disciplining my brother. My mom started telling my grandmother that she couldn't tell her how to raise her kids...knowing my mom, it came out a bit attitudinal. Well grandma didn't take kindly to that and she reached out in reflex and socked my mom. My Aunt Letha, mom's oldest sister, wanted to know what mom did wrong, etc. Aunt Lennie called laughing and said, "well did she get you with the upper cut, or overhand?" That was the kind of personality she had. She could see the humor in just about everything.
Aunt Lennie had this way with animals. I don't know what it was. She could go to a shelter, and if there was a dog in there that hated everyone and everything, the dog would somehow just be in love with her. That's how it was with her second dog, Mookie. She had no intentions of getting a dog that day, but when they took him out of the cage and let her hold him, that fool would not go back in the cage. And he was aggravating. One of those little ankle biting noise makers. But like I said, he liked her. It was the rest of us he could do without.
When I got out of undergrad, I spent the summer in Buffalo trying to find a job. Ultimately it didn't work out, and I moved home. I ended up finding my first claims job within 2 weeks of being home. I'm glad I went home, though. I ended up getting on a bowling team with my Aunt and my mom. We had so much fun! We came in first and second place in the two years we bowled. And we also took a trip to Atlantic City. That was my first time in a real casino. I'm so glad I got to do those things with her. If I had moved down South right after college, I would have missed out!
I remember when I first got the call that she had cancer. My sister Shelley was the one who called and told me. I was upset, but I just thought - radiation and chemotherapy, and we'll move on with life. She had her treatment, and we thought she was going to be ok. This was the spring 2001. I remember at one point during her treatment, they accidentally punctured her esophagus. She had to go in for emergency surgery. But since they were in there, they tried to remove the cancer as best they could, and rebuild her esophagus. Even though we were pissed that they punctured her esophagus, we thought it was good that at least now they could go in and get the tumor out.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving, 2001. I remember talking with my mom, and she said that Aunt Lennie just didn't look well to her. She went into the hospital the week after Thanksgiving. They told her the cancer had spread to various organs, and they gave her 6 months to live. She never left the hospital and she was gone 3 weeks later.
When my mom called me and told me that I needed to come home, because Aunt Lennie wasn't doing well, I just remember going numb. I told my managers, and they were very understanding. I arranged my PTO, and my other aunt got me a buddy pass so I could fly out immediately. I flew in on the 19th and went straight to the hospital to see her. She was very weak. They pretty much had her on morphine and she wasn't talking much. But I'll never forget, when I walked in the room and she saw me, her eyes got so wide. She didn't know I was coming. I hugged her, and held her hand. She said that she liked my hair (I had cut it short and she hadn't seen it). We sat with her for a little while, and then we left. I remember trying not to cry, because I didn't want to upset her, and I didn't want to upset my mom. But I knew that was going to be my last time seeing her. The next morning, I woke up to a call from my mom, saying that she was gone.
That's the first time someone I was really close to had passed away. My Uncle Rafe had died from cancer in 1989, but he lived down south - we didn't get to spend that much time with him. But this was different. I cried my eyes out for a few minutes. My mom was distraught. I really didn't have much time to break down, though. I had to make the calls to people, because my mom couldn't handle it. I really wished my sisters had been there that day, but they were still en route. Things had to be taken care of, and we just had to get it done.
Sometimes, I wish I had NOT seen her at the hospital. I wish my last vision of her would have been when she was happy and healthy. But other times, I'm glad that I did get to see her before she passed...I know she was glad to see me. I could see it in her eyes.
I love looking at old pictures of us from Thanksgivings and Christmases past. We talk about her all the time, and her memory definitely lives on. I found this old picture of her, me and my cousin. It was summer time, and we were at the annual cook out that the hospital used to have (my mom and both my aunts all worked at the same hospital). We all have our bathing suits on. We've climbed up into a tree, and she's holding us there. We're all smiling and happy. I think I was about 5 years old. I'm going to try and scan it later, and if I can get it done, I'll upload it here.
I miss you, Aunt Lennie! But I know you're up there cutting up, probably with Uncle Rafe. You two have probably started your own bowling league, like Monique said yesterday. :)