Aunt Brenda was the second oldest of four sisters. Her two younger sisters considered her to be the good one in their family, the one who was more of a mother to them than their actual mother.
Aunt Brenda left home as soon as humanly possible, like all the sisters did in turn. She worked, went to church, taught Sunday school, took her little sisters to the soda shop and movies, invited them to her apartment, and basically mothered them when she could.
Then right after she turned 33, she was diagnosed with an especially aggressive form of breast cancer and five months later she was gone.
Aunt Brenda had never married because the love of her life cheated on her with another woman. He had gotten the other woman pregnant and “did the right thing” and married her. He still lives in town and I know who he is. When I was old enough to drive, I got a fill-up at his gas station and he recognized me as Brenda’s niece. He made a point of bringing it up, though this was the first time we had met. It made me think that he still carried a torch for her all those years after her death.
My own memories of her are the fragmented impressions of a pre-schooler. There was the time she gave me a Nestle’s Crunch Bar–I held it in my hand so long that when I opened the wrapper to eat it, the chocolate had completely melted onto the foil liner. There was the Christmas Eve at our house when I sat on the living room floor and untied her shoes over and over again while she kept re-tying them. And after she got cancer, there was the time we visited her at my grandparents’ because she’d had to move back home. I remember her sitting up in bed and she had white bandages wrapped around her entire rib cage.
After she died I think everyone stayed alone in their grief. It was a tremendous loss which just got stuffed down, and it stayed down. That’s how we tend to handle all the kinds of grief in this family.