Dear Aunt Susie,
One of my earliest memories of you, you weren’t there at all. You were 18 years old, very sick and in the hospital. I was too young to go in your room, so every time my family visited, I and my sister received a new comic book to read while we waited.
The waiting rooms were stark white, not colorful as they are today. I was about 6 and my sister, Lisa, was eight. Things were different back then, safer I guess. So we were left in the waiting room, alone with our Archie comic books, to read and pass the time. We would get a new one from the gift shop each time we visited. My sister and I would trade off, and read each other’s when we finished our own. I still recall the full page ad on the back, Sea Monkeys. I always wanted to clip out that coupon and send it in.
After loads of tests, you were diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. They gave you lots of medicine to treat it and you got better. You were back to yourself in no time.
You were always our favorite babysitter; you and my Aunt Patty would let us do anything we wanted. I can vividly recall sliding down the stairs in our snowmobile outfits. I hated winter and was quite happy when we moved from Michigan to Tennessee.
You moved as well with our grandparents, so we still saw you often. I remember our parents taking us to visit you at the restaurant you worked at-Jerry’s. You would buy us drinks from the fountain with your tip money. I always wanted to grow up to be like you. To work and make my own money to do whatever I wanted to do.
Then you got married, to some guy I didn’t know. It didn’t last though, and you were soon back home, with a baby on the way. You didn’t seem to miss him much. Why should you when you had us?
I had a ball while shopping for tiny baby clothes. Being the youngest, I wasn’t around babies much. I recall driving hours, it seemed like, to Nashville for your doctor appointments. The baby was a strain on your kidneys, so you had to be monitored often.
I was ten when he was born by Cesarean section at Vanderbilt. He was a big boy! I was still too young to visit legally, but I was more cunning then. My sister and I kept watch until the hallway was empty, and made our way to your room.
You were doing great, but your roommate was very sad. Her twins came too early, they were in intensive care. We normally weren’t allowed, but she okayed us to go back and visit them. I have never seen anything so tiny. I remember one weighed 12 ounces, the size of a can of pop. The other was about two pounds. I always wondered if they had survived. I hope they did.
Well Jeremy Nevle, named after his grandfather, was a strong, healthy boy. He had curly blonde hair and blue eyes. He was about three years old when we moved to New Jersey.
You moved too. Back to Michigan, with my grandparents and Jeremy. Not sure why you moved back. After living in Tennessee, I hated snow. And New Jersey had its share.
You came to visit us once, all of you flew over. We visited New York City and the Delaware River. My Grandmother loved flowers and had a green thumb that apparently skipped me. At one of the Botanical Gardens they had beautiful flowers, and signs clearly marked to not pick them.
Well, my Grandmother didn’t pick them. She dug them up by the roots to take home. You don’t mess with women who lived during the Great Depression. Of course she said they were always so poor in Kentucky, they didn’t know about any recession. Poor was a way of life.
We visited the Jersey Boardwalk. Atlantic City is like a life size monopoly board! And they had the craziest shops! I was a teenager then, and I remember wanting a pack of naughty playing cards.
Being my favorite Aunt, you bought them for me and snuck them out of the store. My parents were VERY upset at both of us when they found them in my room. Sorry Aunt Susie.
Eventually we ended up in Michigan too. One of the best nights of my life is when you took me, my sister Lisa, my cousin Renee, and Jeremy to a haunted house. Lisa lost her shoe, Renee peed on herself, and Jeremy was scarred for life. But it was a night I will always remember.
One good thing about Michigan was Halloween, your favorite holiday. Michigan is flat as a board, and the houses are about an inch apart, so you can hit fifty or sixty in a single night! You always took us trick or treating and would even dress up as well. We would get pillow cases full of treats, go home to unload, and out for more. Halloween is just not the same anymore.
Sometimes life moves too quickly, before I knew it, Jeremy was a teenager. And I had married and ended up with two boys of my own.
You moved to Georgia, where we now lived and even watched my boys from time to time. I was blessed by a divorce and as adults, we somehow grew even closer.
You had been fighting your kidney disease for twenty years now and it was taking its toll. You were unable to work. Having had hundreds of kidney stones over the years, you were in much pain and very frail. But, still in good spirits.
Jeremy grew up, got married and had a child. All of the goals you had set for your life were being checked off. Then your kidneys started to fail. You needed to start dialysis.
I went to the hospital with you to have your fistula surgery, to make dialysis easier. I stayed with you during set up and you told me: you were glad I was there, that you were scared to die alone. I assured you, that you would be just fine and left to sit in the finely decorated waiting room. I was alone this time, not even an Archie to read. It grew dark outside, American Idol came on, and finally a doctor arrived, it was tougher than they expected. Your veins were so weak. But the surgery was done. You started dialysis, choosing the first morning session before dawn, so it wouldn’t ruin your day. You woke up and drove yourself several times a week.
They suggested a kidney transplant but they wanted to remove your bad kidneys first. You see with Renal Tubular Acidosis your kidneys made stones, so they had to remove them. Once you healed, they would put a good kidney back in, if any became available. Your siblings went down to get tested for matches, but you refused. You just couldn’t part with a piece of yourself. Or perhaps, you were just tired of fighting. You had been through so much. On some dark days; you even spoke of ending it all. But I was there for you. And if I could have taken away your pain, I would have.
Spring was here and one day in my mother’s kitchen you told me what had happened at your last dialysis session. An air bubble had gotten into the tube and you’re your limbs contracted horribly, you were in so much pain. It passed with time but you vowed to me that you would not live like that. That you would never go through that again. And I believed you. You had already made your wishes clear and had filled out the forms stating them. You didn’t want to be kept alive on machines.
And the next day while I was at work, you were rushed to the hospital. You couldn’t breathe. A blood clot broke loose and entered your lung. You were too ill to do surgery. And the family came, but I was the first. And then my mom.
They were doing tests so we couldn’t see you. Again, I was waiting at the hospital. Older now, and wiser to things I wish I never knew.
We heard your voice in the hallway. Your unmistakable high pitched sound, you were talking to someone. My mother and I looked at each other and we went up and down the hallways looking for you. There was nobody there.
When you were wheeled down the hall minutes later, you were not conscious and an oxygen mask was helping you breath. My sister arrived as did Jeremy and his family. We took turns visiting with you.
As a lifetime asthmatic, I know about breathing, your oxygen level kept dropping lower and lower. Jeremy couldn’t take it and left the building. His only parent was leaving him.
Against your wishes you were put on a breathing machine to help sustain your life. It helped for a little while as we stood around your bed watching your body lift up off the mattress with the force of each breathe.
This is not what you wanted. And as much as I selfishly wanted you to live. I knew that you did not want to live like this. Jeremy came back and regretfully signed the paperwork. He went to be with his family as his heart broke.
And for once, I was not in the waiting room. I stood next to your side across from my mother and sister and I held your hand as the breathing machine was removed. You took several labored breaths, and we told you it was okay. You seemed to calm and a smile graced your lips. Then you passed from this earth.
At the age of 47, you were gone and I was glad that I was able to be with you. That you were not alone.
My heart ached so badly, I cried for a month. I had been blessed, and had never lost anyone close before. Jeremy, took it the worst. To this day he still blames himself. Maybe this letter will help him understand. It was not his choice, but your own.
And I know that you are not truly gone. I know that you visit from time to time. I have seen you in my dreams and while I was awake.
So I do what we all must do, I go on. But I try to spend more time doing what I enjoy and less time worrying.
Life is just too short.
With Love Always,
This is one of the letters from the book, Lost Love Letters: An Indie Chicks Anthology available now from Amazon