Scott and I flew to the States with my brother, sister-in-law and baby Haven. The purpose of our trip was to attend a surprise 60th birthday party for my dad, who drove to Connecticut with my mom last weekend. My dad was under the impression that we were all heading down to show off Haven and to introduce Scott and Laura to relatives they had not yet met. When he first arrived at his brother's house he didn't suspect a thing. As the afternoon progressed, however, surprise guests began appearing: cousins and classmates my dad hadn't seen in decades; his best friend's widow and children; two amazing friends who drove all the way down from Toronto just for the party. It was a terrific event, and my dad was truly shocked.
What my dad didn't know was that I had received some grim news from my mom's brother earlier that day. My Aunt Maryann, who recently started receiving chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. The cancer had spread to her brain. Aunt Maryann was also suffering from a serious blood infection, which accounted for her sudden decline.
The day after my dad's party, we all headed to the hospital. That was Monday afternoon. I believe that my aunt uttered her last words that day, emerging from her cancer and drug-induced haze just long enough to comment on my mother's haircut. Apparently she had always thought that my mom should cut her "mop" of hair.
From the pleasure of my dad's party to the heartbreak of the hospital, it felt like emotional whiplash. Then, straight from the hospital, we went to visit my mom's last living aunt. It was an opportunity to introduce the youngest member of our family to the oldest member. Eight-month-old Haven and 88-year-old Great-Aunt Nancy hit it off.
During our time in the States we met some family members from Haven's generation for the very first time. It was strange to see these little guys and to know that they will grow up with just a faint idea of who old Aunt Jenni and Uncle Scott are -- two of those relatives way up in Canada. I've spent most of my life in their shoes, having a vague awareness of foreign relatives who had been close to my parents but who were strangers to me. I truly "know" only a handful of my American relatives, Aunt Maryann among them.
My parents remain in Connecticut, while the rest of us returned home on Tuesday. This evening my dad phoned with the news we were dreading: "We lost Aunt Maryann today." I am glad that I had the chance to say good-bye. At the same time, the aunt that I saw in the hospital was not the aunt I choose to remember. I'll remember Aunt Maryann as she was before the cancer and the infection, back when the most she had to complain about were minor aches and pains. There are no more aches and pains now, no more cancer cells or infections. She has shed all of that. Rest in peace, Aunt Maryann. We'll remember you from happier times.