Written: September of 2016
In my DC English IV class, we had to write a memoir of something that happened in our lives. My sweet aunt Deborah was my topic.
My great aunt Deborah had been sick all her life, but at 11 years old I couldn’t imagine her death. The childhood memories at her and my grandmother’s home were still fresh: the late night runs to Sonic and me playing around with her makeup and fragrance powders, my brother and I making them laugh so hard that they had to change, and the never ending stories. The memories were so alive, and I couldn’t face the fact of her not being alive.
To my knowledge, she had always been sick in different ways. She had been sick since she was a child, even had polio. She had mental issues and had the mind of more of a 15 year old than a 56 year old, which is why we probably got along so well. So, her health had never really been well, just enough to keep her alive. But then she got cancer and her life started to fade. It was cancer of the lung at first and then it spread. She was admitted to the Baptist Hospital in Union City in March of 2011. I remember coming and visiting her, and I had to look away. Here was this woman that I loved in a hospital bed with machines that seemed to swallow her tiny frame whole. Then, she was sent home to die.
At the time, my mother and father were going through a divorce, so I clinged to my grandmother and helped take care of Deborah. It was my escape. They set up a hospital bed in the middle section of my grandmother’s house and gave her a wheelchair for when she wanted to sit outside. I spent most weekends over there and by summer I was there every day.
At 11 years old, I became a caretaker. I did what most will not. She had diapers and although they did smell foul, I did not mind changing them. Bathing her was undressing her, sponging her naked body with warm water, and redressing her. She would just smile at me through it all. I do not know how she was so happy. I could probably not handle it the way she did. She was indeed a trooper. I would paint her nails and makeup her face when she asked me to. I knew she was suffering, although she did not show it, so I did anything to cause her an ounce of true happiness.
Back then, I played often with these little girls that lived right next door to Deborah, and their grandmother gave me a slap of reality one day.
I had said something along the lines that “when Deborah gets better,” and I was stopped in my tracks.
Ms. Mary looked at me and told, “Honey, she won’t get better.”
At the time, I rejected what she said. I was clinging on to the hope that this wouldn’t be the end. However, Ms. Mary was right, and my 11 year old self would learn to accept it.
Towards the end, I was giving Deborah higher dosages of morphine. She would make a sour face, and I knew it must have been repugnant. The morphine would cause her to have strange hallucinations, but there was one that was very dear to me. I believe it was in the few days before her death.
“Rachel, I need you to do my make-up. I have a date.”
I smiled, “A date? Oh really? With whom?”
She beamed very brightly, “His name is Blake and his mother set it up.”
I did what she asked and even painted her nails. She was so excited and was glowing with this huge smile that would light up the darkest room. However, before she made it to that date, she fell asleep. When she woke up, she had no memory of Blake or the event that was supposed to take place.
Deborah was a woman of small stature and a fierce soul who had been through hell and back on this earth. She had suffered through a sick childhood, an abusive marriage, the death of her husband, and then cancer. At the end of each day, she still found a reason to smile, and that is what made her so strong. Thankfully, Deborah did not have to suffer much longer.
On June 30th, 2011, I got a call around 9 or 10 in the morning. I was at my dad’s, right down the road from Deborah. I woke up and for some reason I already knew what had occurred. I got on my bike, put on my hat, and raced down the road. As soon as I reached her front yard, I dropped my bike and ran inside. I kissed her and held her hand, not yet cold. My heart sank and memories instantly played through my mind. I heard her voice, her laugh. I saw her smile. Then I looked at her face in that moment. Today, I can still see her eyes open, staring into an abyss of something I know nothing of.
I did not cry that day or at her funeral. I had not accepted it; I could not accept it. It just seemed surreal, but about a month later I woke up in the middle of the night crying. Deborah was gone.
Looking back now, my time with Deborah is something I can never forget. That year held a lot of change for me, from my parents’ divorce to my grandfather’s death. My dad even moved to Texas that summer and there were no more trips to my grandmother’s house. I learned very valuable lessons that year: time is precious, and things are always changing. Some days I remember Deborah’s date and her sweet innocence in this cruel world, how she stayed lifted even though cancer was taking her away. I remember how she was the one who adjusted her sails in this raging storm, not waiting nor caring for the storm to stop. The world could not change her, but she did change it. Because of her, I can never view this beautiful tragedy of what we call “life” as anything less than precious and something worth fighting for.