This is a response to Tracey Spicer’s article, “I’m sorry I didn’t kill you, mum”. It was modelled on Spicer’s article and written as a letter to the author’s great-aunt, who recently died after nearly forty years of chronic rheumatoid arthritis.
I love you.
We all love you, and we miss you.
How could anyone ever try to hurt you?
You went through terrible pain, and I know that even the morphine and fentanyl couldn’t help when it became really bad. You taught me so much about love and about sacrifice. Some days, it was a type of martyrdom even for you to smile, but you smiled every time I saw you.
Having visitors made you so happy. We flocked to the hospital, intending to cheer you up, but we always left having received much more than we gave. Rather than chatting about yourself (an easy temptation, especially for the sick!), you loved to hear about the lives of your visitors. When we were happy, you rejoiced. When we were downcast, you were the best comforter.
You wiped away our tears when we came to wipe away yours.
You lived with dignity, and you died with dignity. You were greater than the pain you were in. More than just a collection of (mostly failing) organs and parts, you were a funny, clever, beautiful woman with much to offer the world.
I am so glad that we never saw you – and you never saw yourself – as only a sufferer of pain, or a body in a crisis. It’s true that we knew you couldn’t be healed. Slowly, your kidneys were failing, and all your systems were shutting down. If there was nothing more to you than biology, your pain would have been too much to bear.
But you were more. The woman who told cheerful stories about her darling grandson and hung a half-shredded, gawky old picture of her beloved sister-in-law in her hospital room (to keep her humble, of course) could never be reduced to mere biology. The sparkle in your eyes when you teased me, or the secret, encouraging words that you whispered when you hugged me, came from something more: a dignity and spirit that outshone everything else.
You apologized for not being more helpful or useful, and it hurt you to be unable to join us on hiking excursions, or to make meals for the family when baby Felicity was born. No one else ever saw you as a burden: you lifted us up when we couldn’t lift ourselves.
You taught me how to laugh at myself.
You taught me how to love. (I learned more about love from watching you and Uncle Paul look at each other just once than I could from any amount of explanation and speaking.)
Aunty, the day you died was tragic. It’s been almost ten weeks, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. We will never stop mourning you.
Many people have regrets when their loved ones die. Mine is that I didn’t visit often enough, didn’t tell you how much you meant to me, didn’t even consciously realize how much you taught me until too late…
Even your suffering was a testimony to your strength and love. You gave us the courage to help you when you needed it most, as the arthritis progressed.
Especially in those last months.
When you cried out at night, or when you couldn’t stop the tears between doses of morphine, all our hearts ached. But you had taught us (and kept teaching us) how to be compassionate and courageous, like you, to the very end. We did all we could to stop your pain without violating your tremendous dignity. When you passed away – simultaneously in pain and at peace – loving family and friends surrounded you. And, because they loved you, they cried for you when you were hurting, and cried for themselves when you were gone.
You taught them how to love.
Was your life useless? No, never. You gave so much to the people you loved. (And that was everyone: family, friends, doctors, nurses…) You woke us up, shook us out of ourselves and into a fuller, better understanding of life and death.
Let your life be a sign for those well-meaning, confused people who think murder is compassion, and persons are mere bodies.
Could those people, meeting a heroine like you, continue to make their tragic mistakes?
I love you, Aunty.
Rachel Maria is the Relationships and Creative Art Editor of The Search Magazine.