Yesterday I woke up to the news that an aunt had passed away. She had been in an accident and did not survive. There had been a few messages before that saying she was in critical condition but I did not see them as I was asleep. I woke up to the finality of death.
I wasn’t particularly close to this aunt. She was my mother’s cousin so not in the first circle of aunts. But the whole day I found myself tearing up. When my mum’s brother died I did not feel this much sadness, but that may be because he was ill for a long time. This was sudden. Maybe that accounts for my (over)reaction. I have experienced the sudden death of closer family members/friends and the seeming randomness of death does not amaze me anymore.
But the idea of not seeing someone who was so alive does. Although when I went to India I never planned specifically to see this aunt, I always ended up meeting her at some family gathering. The idea that she will no longer be present seems wrong somehow. This is the strange thing about death, that even after the event, you expect things to go back to normal and the person to pop up as usual. Acceptance of the finality of it takes time because at the moment it is unreal.
I believe that what really triggered my emotions was the idea that I could lose my own mother in a similar way. I know my parents will die eventually. But not tomorrow, not anytime in the near future. I refuse this possibility. And this death made it real.
I try to imagine the grief of my cousins who, like me, live away from home and would find themselves helpless when the news came. I cannot quite comprehend what it would be like to receive that phone call.
This aunt was extremely helpful to my mother who struggles to look after my now 103 year old grandmother. She would visit my grandmother and my grandmother’s face would light up. She was always at the other end of the phone line when my mom needed medical advice. This is a practical loss as well as an emotional one.
My clearest memory of this aunt: I had developed a serious ear infection on a trip to India, there was blood and pus coming out of my ear, and yet I needed to travel. Reluctantly, our family doctor gave me a pile of medication to help avert the possibility of my eardrum bursting on the flight back. My mum called this aunt, who is a pathologist and familiar with all things medical. She explained to me very calmly and clearly in exactly what order I should take the medicines so that all the fluid in my ear dried up. It was the most sensible and clear delivery of medical advice I have received ever. I still remember her voice on the phone before I take a flight and stock up on exactly those medicines.