There are two days each and every year that are hard for myself and my family. These days come and go, and most times I don't even say anything out loud, but I know that I always pause. This has been the process for the past 23 years- Feb 8th was one of the days worthy of a pause. (Family and friends who weren't looking for an emotional blog post today, you may want to stop reading now ;-)
|Me (semi-naked) on Deborah's legs, I love both of our expressions here and probably one of my favorite photos ever!|
I was probably about 2 and she was about 20.
When I was 9, my aunt Deborah (my mom's sister) passed away from a very quick battle with Cancer on Dec. 23. She was 27 and pregnant and had complained to doctors of back pain, but because it was her first pregnancy, the doctors associated it with that, and ignored her complaints. Some of the details are blurry because I was 9, it all happened so quick, and it was very tragic. But-- from what I've always understood, they had to do an emergency C-Section to deliver her baby, my cousin Riley, and it was at that time that they discovered the Cancer had spread everywhere, and it was too late. This was on Nov. 24th. They estimated her survival to be about 30 days, I think she made it 29, to finally leave us on Dec. 23rd of that same year, 1987. Twenty nine days, how do you wrap up your life in twenty nine days?? How do you find yourself to be a new mother and know that you aren't going to get to experience that or watch your child grow?
I pretty much never allow myself to deal with the emotions of losing her, a person who was such a bright place in my heart....I just can't. Every time I even think about her, I go back to the joy of being a 9 year old -- and to me she hung the moon. I tried to write this yesterday and got too choked up, I thought about not writing it at all, but I felt like I should, that maybe it would help when I get to this day next year?
I've always thought that maybe because my grandparents, my mom, my other aunt, Dela, were all adults -- perhaps they had the tools to deal with her loss? Maybe they deal with it in their own way, like me, everyday? But I often think that because I was young, I bottled it up and put on a happy face and kept on trooping...but really, I think about her all the time....when I graduated college, I thought about how proud she would have been. When I got married, I thought about how much I wish she could have met David....and now that we are ready to start a family, I think about how my grandparents lost a child so suddenly and how my cousin Riley (now 23) only gets to hear stories of how wonderful and caring his own mother was. I hate this for him.
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To give you a little perspective of how I could have been so close to my aunt and how I could grieve her loss so hard and so often, I will share with you a little more of my background. I sometimes I feel a little silly because I know not all people are this close to their aunts. When I was still a baby, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents and her two younger sisters, both of whom were still teenagers. Everyone pitched in to raise me, but I really took to Deborah.
|Me as an extra chunky baby with my Mom and grandfather, Paw Paw.|
It was often a joke among my extended family that there was no point to go visit my grandparents house because all they do is sit around and stare at that baby (that baby, was me!). So, I spent alot of time with my aunt Deborah- she was my baby sitter during the workday when my mom was at work, we ran around together and played. And as seen in this photo below with her, I have Dr. Pepper in my bottle-- she probably let me have anything that I wanted. No wonder I was such a chunk.
When I was school age, my mom said that Deborah would call her and say, "I'm going to go get Carolyn out of school.", my mom would say "No, she needs to be in school" and then later get a phone call from Deborah saying, "Carolyn's here with me at home." haha She just liked having me around! I really think that me being raised by so many family members at a young age contributed to me feeling loved and giving me a good sense of who I am. I was given so much love!!I knew that I had support and love coming at me from all angles! Haha
I didn't realize this until now that I'm older, but it couldn't have been easy for my mom to see they way I adored Deborah. I recently asked her and she laughed and told me that she would think to herself, "But she's mine!" referring to me being a baby and Deborah wanting to take me everywhere with her! Deborah and I just got each other, and of course, she didn't have to discilpine me like my mom did. And I know I wasn't the only one that felt this way about her....everyone that knew her, knew how caring she was, she was loved.
|Deborah, me, my Mom- my 5th birthday|
(Cameo by Heather Cooper on the left hand side!)
There is an up side to today though, so put away the hankies! I've been able to feel closer to her recently, than I have in 23 years, and it has been amazing and very emotional. A few months ago, I went to visit my grandparents nearby. My Paw Paw had been asking me to come look at some furniture in their storage shed to see if I wanted it. I finally got around to going to check it out and while we were outside, he motioned to an additional piece of furniture and told me that it had been Deborah's. My first question was "Is there still stuff in it?".... "Like her clothes?"....."Is there anything I would want?" He told me to have a look and he went back inside. I looked through that thing like I was searching for money for crack. With every new piece of her that I unearthed, it fed my frenzy to find even more.
|Deborah and me - Halloween 1981|
|Deborah as the clown, me as Cookie Monster.|
My mom is pregnant with Bill!
Lisa F. as a witch
No one had been through these drawers since she died, 23 years ago! It was amazing....and really sad. I found so many Polaroids of me as a kid (the ones you see here!), photos that I'd never seen of us together, but had memories of. These Halloween photos for example, I remembered it- but hadn't seen photos of it in close to 30 years! (ok, that sentence just made me feel old!)
There were drawings of mine that she had saved for years like this one below.
|Yikes! I never could draw hands so I put the arms behind the people!|
|Christmas 1980? I'll take that nightgown too!|
Finding all of this, I was able to feel that I didn't make up how much she loved me, and that in the same way she hung the moon to me, I was a very special to her. It was such a nice feeling, like a hug from her that was badly needed.
The strangest find of all was a baby gift, still wrapped and in my little 3rd grader cursive handwriting it says "To: Tylor" and then on the inside "From: Deborah Martin + Carolyn Burgess " Who the heck in Tylor? Did I misspell his/her name?
|Well, you know I had to open it.|
I couldn't believe how cute the little jumper was! I have no memory of the gift or Tylor or why it was never opened- but it really freaked me out on the day that I opened it. Haha. I was convinced that it was a sign that I was pregnant and it was a baby gift from beyond! Those little whales in primary colors!? Totally something I would buy now!
There were so many more treasures than I could fit in one blog post, but I think this can give you a glimpse into who she was and why she was so special to me. She is someone that will never ever be forgotten, I will share these stories and photos with my children and hope that her spirit and joy for life can live on through me! Thanks for reading and walking down memory lane with me.