By Greg Price
“Love ya”… “Love you too”…As I reach for the handle of the front door of my Aunt Pat’s house, I look back one last time to see her grinning at me and quipping “stay out of trouble.” I grin back and reply ‘I’ll try.”
Those were the last words I was to ever exchange with my beloved aunt on a Sunday evening before she suffered a massive stroke a few days later.
Medical experts at the Lethbridge hospital gave their opinion that my Aunt Pat would not likely survive the night as she was tended to on July 29. You can be armed with all the medical knowledge in the world on strokes and chance of recovery, they obviously didn’t know my feisty Aunt Pat with her stubbornness. She would hang on, until peacefully leaving this earth nearly a full week later.
It was that stubbornness and feistiness that I also admired about my Aunt Pat and Uncle Andy who had passed years earlier.
Perhaps that was my draw to them in that they gave as well as they took in many spirited debates, mixed in with playful teasing and a warmth where their home was always so welcoming.
With my parents moving away to Nanaimo, B.C., my senior year of high school, Aunt Pat served as my second mother with the majority of my journalism career spent in southern Alberta in Lethbridge and Taber. Aunt Pat was there when I graduated from journalism school in 1998. She was there for many a birthday celebration where she whipped up her chili that I loved so much. Relationships and break ups, deaths and happy announcements with extended family, everyday life with the highs and lows, Aunt Pat was always there as I visited her Lethbridge home regularly over the weeks, months and years.
And so I pledged to be there when I first heard of her stroke on a page layout Wednesday and hurried to her side in the afternoon. Each person handles grief, despair and tragedy in their own way and when dealing with loss and illness, there really is no one way people can say it can be handled correctly. Some in the family decided to stay away, preferring to remember Pat during sunnier times when she was more able bodied. For my own personal journey, I knew I couldn’t do that because I had already done it before when my Grandfather Price descended into the worst parts of Alzheimer’s Disease when I was a teenager. I avoided him at all costs because I was afraid that with someone I was so familiar with, I was no longer familiar to him and I was afraid of seeing him at his most confused, angry and disorientated.
Upon his passing, I always regretted the missed time I had with him and did not want to do the same to my aunt. As anyone familiar with my columns as a regular reader would know, I do not consider myself a religious man, but a spiritual one as an agnostic. Initial reports were my Aunt Pat was non-responsive as I raced to the emergency wing of the Lethbridge hospital. Again, medical diagnosis be damned.
I went by Pat’s bedside and held her hand as I hovered over her. Body ravaged by her massive stroke, I saw her eyes widen and a tear stream down from her left eye as I held her hand and called out ‘It’s Greg.’
For a supposedly non-responsive woman, I do not know if I ever felt as connected to my Aunt Pat as I did at that exact moment as the water works exploded from my eyes — if there is a higher power, I certainly felt it then.
Kisses on her forehead, private whispers in her ear of what she meant to me, holding her hand, and two bedside readings of Robert Munsch’s ‘Love You Forever’ are a few of the things I did to pass the time to keep connected to my Aunt Pat in her dying days at the palliative wing at St. Michael’s Care Centre. How responsive she actually was to all of this as she was unable to speak, I have no idea, but I do know anything any family member did that week helped bring the Price/Rodzinyak families closer together.
And maybe that is the lesson learned in Aunt Pat’s stubbornness in lasting a week longer than all medical experts said she would. In our grief, it showed exactly how much she was loved with relatives and friends from all over the province racing to her bedside.
While Aunt Pat would be leaving us soon, it brought many family together. Life gets busy and life gets disconnected. That is just the way it is. Those cousins and siblings we used to play with continually as kids, now have families and jobs themselves to attend to. The love is always there, we just do not have as much free time as adults to express it. But, whether it’s a day or a year since we see someone, the love is still there, fully intact to express.
And boy did we express it. Cousins Beth and Tara gave one of the most heart-felt and touching tributes at the funeral I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard Pearl Jam’s ‘Daughter’ song literally hundreds of times and never realized it was one of my aunt’s favourite songs. The slide show presentation showed how many lives my Aunt Pat touched at a funeral in which extra seating had to be brought in. My cousin Tom looks like he has taken on the patriarch role of playful teasing that used to be Aunt Pat’s job, as he was able to keep the laughter going among the tears. Old childhood memories were shared among cousins as we toasted with Aunt Pat’s favourite drink — an Alabama Slammer. Years may have passed between some of us, but it felt like yesterday when we all had seen each other in the warmth that was in the room.
This is what family and friends are for, to not only enjoy the good times together, but to also lean on each other for support during the tough times. Consoling cousins, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews and friends, they were such a huge support for me as well as we all navigated the initial stormy waters filled with tear-stained grief.
In times of celebration and/or mourning, be it a wedding, a birthday, family reunion or funeral, you realize exactly how blessed you are to have so many wonderful family and friends in your life.
So while I had to say good-bye to my beloved Aunt Pat in which I will see her again one day, I will raise another Alabama Slammer again soon and toast those still close to me among the living of family and friends.
While days, weeks, months or years may pass again until we meet —always know you are close to my heart and simply — I love you.