Tara, Nicole, and I arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was already growing dark. Uncle Kenny and the kids had left by then to go home–to go decompress for a while.
You looked dead already when I crawled into your dim room, trying to hold my guts in. Tara waited for me, followed me, because I’m the big sister. I wasn’t afraid of you, only afraid of myself–afraid of what I might not do. But I’m strong even when I’m falling apart, like you were up to the end. So, I did go to you, and I touched you. I stroked your hair. I had never noticed before yesterday the child-like size of your ears. How did those little things ever keep your glasses attached to your head?
Your glasses had been removed; your eyes were closed.
I told a story Nicole had never heard. A funny one about the time you and mom pushed me through the living room window of an empty house mom was interested in buying. My first felony. We all laughed, and I know you heard because I watched your eyes flutter the whole time I was talking. I knew before seeing you I was going to say something that would have made you laugh. If not for the ventilator–the tubes stuffed down your throat to help you breathe.
I’d been making you laugh my entire life. I’ll never again hear you laughing out loud. I loved your laugh. I believe everyone who had the pleasure to know loved your laugh.
Tara and I switched back and forth, spending our last intimate moments with you. I don’t know what she’d said to you, and that’s okay–those quiet words of hers were meant for you alone.
“Aunt Denise, I love you so much. You’ve been one of my favorite people in this life. You’ve always been strong, and you’ve been fighting so hard. But if you need to go now, it’s okay.” That is what I said to you. Your eyes fluttered. My best friend told me today I did a beautiful thing–I sent you home in a sea of love.
You were non-responsive to all stimuli before your husband and children could get back to the hospital. Your attending nurse was so kind to us when she explained you were gone.
We weren’t there to see Uncle Kenny’s face upon learning the news. And Heaven help me, I’m glad I didn’t have to watch him fall apart–my beloved uncle, the sweetest man in my world.
Dear Aunt Denise,
Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being proud of me. Thank you for being my mom when I needed one–and when Tara needed one. Thank you for being the best friend I needed so many times. Thank you for always telling me the truth. I’ll live the rest of my life with your wisdom in my heart. I promise to always do what’s right.
I love you forever,
Oh, goddamn! My aunt is dead.
She’s fucking dead. I still have her glass serving bowl, and I want her back.