I started this blog on 1 September 2017, stuck on a 25 hour flight with nothing I could do but sit and type. I was on my way home, in what would be a very slow rush, to see my Aunt Claudia. I had no idea what I was walking into but I knew it wasn’t good. I’d never finish the blog until today.
I had been home just two months earlier on a planned visit. I spent my three weeks travelling around Ontario visiting friends, seeing new babies, and attending a wedding. Along my way, I stopped into an Ottawa hospital where my Aunt Claudia had just been admitted. All of a sudden, she’d lost feeling in her lower legs. She’d always been active and healthy, helping my cousins with children and life. She’d never been sick so we really were confounded as to what was wrong. We figured she’d get some tests, a nerve in her back had been pinched maybe, she’d be back on her feet at the daycare or Sunday school soon enough.
I stood at the door while the nurse chatted with her. She turned to see who had arrived and her eyes welled up. She told the nurse, “This is my niece Meagan, all the way from New Zealand.” I choked back tears and urged the nurse to carry on doing what she needed to do. After all, I had all the time in the world to visit with her.
We visited for maybe a half an hour. We traded updates and a Bevertail. My stepmom had told me that she’d been making lists of things she really wanted to try and a Beavertail was on it. I had stopped at the shop in the market on my way and picked up an original - fried with cinnamon. She ate about half and put the other half away for later. She was in good spirts - more annoyed than anything that she was in the hospital and that people were making a fuss - not surprisingly.
She took care of people - her late husband John, her daughters, her grandchildren - she didn’t need to be taken care of. She was tough having lost a daughter at a young age and not a wilting flower by any stretch of the imagination. She had the stubbornness of my Grandmother and the warm heart of my Grandfather. Her eyes twinkled when she smiled and she had the Murdoch wit in spades.
She didn’t know what was wrong but they’d taken lots of scans and we’d know soon. I left her to her next visitors - friends from Church - after hugs, kisses, and a group prayer. I was so not worried - nobody really was - that it didn’t even feature in my blog. Two months later she went back into hospital and within a few days I got the message that she was near the end. It was an absolute shock.
I had lost an Aunt before so maybe it shouldn’t have been. A very close Aunt, at least for a time in my life. My Auntie Cindy. Despite growing up and spending weeks of summers at her house, I have a very foggy memory on those last months and weeks of her life. For some strange reason, I either don’t know or have chosen not to remember how she died. Whether I was too young to understand or that it wasn’t explained well to me, I’m not sure. I could have blocked it out - a completely reasonable scenario - knowing how my mind works. I think I was in early university. I remember her being in a car accident and never really recovering, succumbing to an infection of burns maybe. Why I didn’t go to hospital then, I’m sure I was too scared. I remember her funeral though. She and my mom looked so much alike - it could have easily been my mom on that photo perched on the easel.
When I got the call that Aunt Claudia was near the end, it hit home much harder. I’d always been closer with the Murdoch side of my family. Growing up, I always felt more comfortable, safest and happiest when visiting them. I’d call my grandparents on the weekend sheepishly asking if I could come visit, if Grandad could come get me. A few times, Aunt Claudia would be visiting and would come get me instead. Honestly, it’s largely genetics. As I get older and learn more about myself and my family, the similarities are incredible. Good and bad, I’ll take them all. It’s who I am.
Being on the other side of the world may have also had something to do with it. This was the first major thing to happen while away. And I was about 14, 000 kms away. Having just started a job in New Zealand five months earlier, I didn’t know what to do. I am pretty sure I found out at work. Dan was working in a side room so I went to speak to him, eyes welling with tears.
“I know it’s not great timing,” I said. I knew he was working in a side room on something important. “But I’ve just found out that my Aunt is really sick and it doesn’t sound good.” He turned around, looked straight at me and said, “you should go home”. I felt terrible. I had just gotten back from Canada. I had no leave left and was still proving myself. But this was the first aunt on my Dad’s side to get really sick and to not be with my Dad right now was the worst feeling. Again, he said, you should go. I said I’d look for flights for the weekend - the information coming from Canada wasn’t clear. Maybe I’d get there and she’d pull through - it would be a bit silly to have rushed home. I just didnt’ know. I had to go on the information I was getting.
My eyes were red-rimmed, so Graeme immediately came to take me for a walk and coffee. I couldn’t hold my tears back around Gmac. Already he knew me and his kind heart was exactly what I needed. He said “why are you waiting for the weekend? Go now.”
I started looking up flights, about $2,500 and 27 hours. If that’s what I had to do, that’s what I would do. Money was the least of my concerns. Nevertheless, Dan would pull me into an office later that day to tell me that I should book the next flight out, BBG would give me bereavement leave and $500 to help with my flight. An incredible gesture, I thought at the time. I had no idea how much it would eventually mean to me.
I was on a flight the next morning. I arrived at the hospital at 8pm a few hours after my Aunt Liz arrived from England. Over the next hour, my Aunt Liz and Dad would speak with her daughters and eventually come to the decision to turn off the machines keeping her alive. I’d never get to speak to her but I did get to sit next to my cousins and my Dad in their most difficult time. She would die around 10pm that night with us all at her side. All I could think of was how I never wanting to say goodbye, especially in this way, again.
I never would have imagined that almost exactly two years later I would miss the chance to say goodbye to my Aunt Liz.