The first week of October we learned that my Aunt Leesa had Stage IV lung, brain and stomach cancer. Its news nobody wants to hear.
You think about a family, and whether they are tight or not, this is what pulls the unit together.
My aunt is 12-years older than me.
At sixteen she was pregnant.
I was a brat.
Her favorite story to tell about me was that in her pregnancy, she was craving peaches.
There was one in the house.
I wanted it.
She wanted it.
I was spoiled.
I got it.
I took one glorious bite, hopped on my tricycle, rode it to the end of the sidewalk and chucked it in the street.
Still, she loved me.
Four years ago on Christmas Eve, her sister, my Aunt Sheila, died.
Grandma found her.
It’s easy to say we were surprised, but we weren’t.
Drugs were her life to the point that her body just gave out.
She left behind a 16-year old son.
Leesa took charge. She orchestrated the aftermath of her sister’s death so their mother, my grandmother, could go on. So her nephew could live as he should have all along.
As the days have gone on, Leesa has come to need someone to be with her around the clock.
It wasn’t our turn.
We even tried to sell ourselves as the “Dynamic Duo.”
Not until yesterday.
Grandma arrived unexpectedly.
When I told her it was great to see her, but I wasn’t expecting her, she said she had talked to Leesa and then left to go spend the day with her. When she got there Leesa didn’t answer her door or her phone.
I told Grandma we needed to go.
She said she called Leesa’s son.
In the middle of this, my mother, the oldest of the three sisters called. She agreed we needed to go or call 9-1-1.
Grandma said, “No.”
Twenty minutes later we learned Leesa had fallen asleep.
Then my phone rang, and Leesa’s daughter-in-law called stating I was needed.
I packed Li’l Man up and told Grandma we were going.
I’m not going to go into all the details.
I haven’t been a great niece.
The last time I saw Leesa was almost eight years ago.
As we drove the 5-miles to her house, I thought how crazy it was that once we had been so close.
We had had no falling out.
Life just did its thing.
Somewhere between Grandma arriving at my house and us arriving at Leesa’s I learned she had been in the hospital Saturday, fought to come home and placed on oxygen.
When I saw Leesa, she was gray.
She was barely coherent.
She was shivering from being cold and had a fever.
Her son and I got her covered up and got the oxygen back to her nose.
Within thirty minutes her pigmentation had returned.
Her fever had spiked to 101.6, and we decided she needed to go to the hospital.
The son told the mom and immediately, my Aunt came back from wherever it was she had been. “No!” she shouted.
I told her, “Leesa, you have to go to the hospital. You have a high fever.”
In true Leesa-fashion, she replied, “You don’t know.”
I gave her the option, “You either have to go to the hospital or you are going to die in your bed.”
With sass and spunk, she tossed back the blankets and said, “Okay!”
With little accompaniment, Leesa walked to the stairs.
One by one she tackled them, stopping midway to free herself from her son’s hand and try and make a run back to her room.
More negotiations and we were at the bottom of the steps.
I asked if she needed to rest.
As soon as she took one breath, she tried to flee again.
More negotiations out the front door, down the steps and to the car.
We got her in the car and she looked at me and in that same mumbled voice she had before the hospital came into play she said, “Hurry!”
Her son had to make sure her dog was secure and he locked the house while I stayed with my Aunt.
I told her I loved her.
Because I do.
She nodded, only slightly, acknowledging me.
Her son then drove her to the hospital.
Grandma and I went back home and waited.
Grandma left and returned to her home.
About 5 hours later Grandma called to tell me they were waiting for Leesa’s spouse to make the decision to leave her as a vegetable or pull the plug.
An hour later Grandma called to say they had found Leesa’s mate and he would make the call.
There is something about knowing death is about to take someone you care for away.
It spins all the memories of their life and yours meshed together through your heart and your head. It’s like an old 8mm movie in slow motion as it casts frame after frame of memories long forgotten in the day to day routine, held captive in the heart.
My night was long.
My heart hurt.
Grandma called this morning to tell me “Leesa is still at the hospital.”
Then at 1:30 my mom called, from North Carolina, to tell me that she had just talked to Leesa’s daughter-in-law.
The hospital has given Leesa 3 hours to 3 days.
Those memories have started flowing again.
The tears won’t stay inside.
My heart hurts for her son.
It breaks for her mother who will be laying to rest her second child in four years.
It beats for my mom who will be all that remain of her siblings.
At 2:36 this afternoon, my Grandma called.
She is on her way to the hospital to see her daughter one last time.
For the first time since that day in October, my Grandma cried.
Godspeed Aunt Leesa. You are loved.