The day Aunt Juni died

I had stayed home from work, ready for the news that was to come before I’d eat my breakfast. The weather was grey and rainy all day, as if it knew to dress for mourning; it seemed to be crying the tears that weren’t coming out of me. Immediately, pictures were being posted and family members were tagged, honoring the life Juni lived and displaying our grief so others would see it. And for some reason, I posted a picture of a Polish church instead of Juni, not mentioning her life or her death anywhere except in private texts to my siblings.

I spent time journaling about Juni that evening, remembering her personality and my connection to her, about how I’d sat in her hospital room for the week of my spring break the year she had her aneurysm, about how she used to grab my butt and talk about my figure before I even had a figure to talk about, about how she texted me to ask for pictures of all of my tattoos after I sent her a text to let her know I loved her toward the end of her life, when she was in the hospital yet again for something having to do with her stage IV cancer. She spent a lot of time in our house while we were we growing up because she was my mom’s best friend. I knew her as my aunt and knew that her presence was a source of support to my mom in a way their five brothers weren’t really. I knew that they had a special connection and that that connection involved goofy skits and loud laughter and a lot of things I didn’t know.

So the day she died, I didn’t feel it was my right to feel sad. It felt too self-indulgent, as if I was bringing the spotlight on myself when it should remain on Juni and those closest to her: her husband, her sister (my mom), her kids and grandkids, her brothers. What right did I have to grieve? I could be there for the others, but I couldn’t dismiss their pain by bringing attention to my own. It just wasn’t my place.

Yet even as I was feeling this way, I was thinking about the ridiculousness of it. Of course everyone can grieve in his/her own way. Everyone should mourn the loss of any life, not just of those they know but those they will never know, too. I know that I have the right to grieve for my own aunt, but I just didn’t feel like I did. (The irony of making it about me while claiming I don’t want to make it about me is not lost on me. I’m sad, and now I’m bringing attention to it. What a hypocrite.)

I think that it’s easy to ignore sadness and, through some bizarre alchemy, use it as fuel for anger or motivation to get things done or numbness even. I try not to do this in my life, but the day Juni died is proof that I do it nonetheless. I want to be there for those who are deep in their grief, but I’m afraid that as long as I’m afraid of my own, I will be afraid of theirs; that when I’m in the middle of such raw and open hurt, I will just want to run away.

But what I think will really happen is that their grief will touch my own in a way my isolated life hasn’t allowed yet. When I am surrounded by my kin, these people who loved Juni fiercely and who are unafraid to show it by how deeply they are grieving–just like she so openly loved and grieved– I will no longer be able to separate myself from my own sadness, and instead of running, I will be there alongside the rest of them under the heaviness of it all.

Her service is tomorrow. My brother and I are going to Southern Illinois tonight. The feelings ball will get rolling soon. But right now, I’m sitting on my bed, writing about how I’ve felt these past couple of days. I wish this post had been less about me and more about my aunt. She was really something. She liked what she liked without worrying about anyone else’s opinion; she was loud and eccentric; she loved laughing. She was a wonderful, caring woman. I am only her niece. But I know she loved me, just as everyone whom she’s ever loved knows it. And I loved her, though that is often much harder for outsiders to discern. So no matter how I may act or what I may feel I’m worthy of, I do know this: I was lucky to have an aunt like Juni. There is no one like her.

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