January 16, 1948-September 10, 2019
Today, my aunt Ruth died at the age of 71. She was my mother’s “Baby Sister.” It was brain cancer.
I wish I could say hers was a life well lived. I wish I could say she achieved all of her hopes and dreams. She was loved, but her life was not perfect. Growing up, the cycles of abuse that echoed throughout generations of my working class Irish family must have taken its toll. Sitting next to her in this photo is her husband Barry, a man who died in a boating accident not too long after this photograph was taken, leaving her alone to raise my older cousin Jeff, whom I admired and looked up to. Given the hand that life dealt her, I think she did a pretty good job of it. He’s a pretty neat guy who’s a professional DJ and loves paintball, and has a son of his own.
During the times I had the opportunity to spend time with my aunt Ruth, she was very sharp, intelligent, and witty. She would speak very fast as she said something witty, but she never seemed to let anyone get too close. I wanted to get to know her better, but I was afraid. I knew she wanted more out of life, but her darkness was holding her back. Sometimes, she would disappear into that darkness, but my brave mother would always go looking for her in that darkness to bring her back out into the light that shone from her love and the love of family. Whenever I saw Aunt Ruth after my mother had brought her back into the light at Christmas time, she had a look in her eye that reminded me of a dog that had been beaten too much. All I could do was hug her. I had no words of comfort to offer.
She didn’t die alone. My mother brought her into the light of her love one last time, bringing her baby sister into her home so she could take care of her. My mother would always be there for her with a compassion and understanding that knew no bounds. I’m certain my mother’s unconditional love for her baby sister comes from knowing far better than any of us what her baby sister had to go through in life that thrust her into her darkness. My mother made sure her baby sister got to see her son one last time mere days before she died. She made sure her baby sister got to speak to me on the phone before she lost the ability to hold a conversation from her aggressive brain cancer, and I want to remember those final words she was able to speak to me forever. Words that she struggled to vocalize at the same quick rate she used to. How generous of her to give me those words in the final days of her life, it was the greatest gift anyone could offer.
I suppose, given the love of my mother and her other two sisters, my aunt Ruth did live a full and wonderful life. I credit this love for helping my aunt live to the age of 71. She left me a great cousin in her son, and her legacy is the evidence that love is the light that helps all of us find our way out of our own darkness. I only wish I could have hugged her one last time, and that’s what is breaking my heart right now.
Love you, aunt Ruth.