Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Sometimes, however, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.
In August 2009 my aunt was diagnosed with a terminal illness: bowel cancer.
In the past I heard all about it, but I thought it was not possible that it would strike someone close to me.
Well, I was wrong.
Previous to that, she had complained about pain in her stomach a couple of times, but thought it was just a simple stomach ache that comes and goes. After a while my mother, who works as a nurse in a local hospital, asked her to come in for a check-up. That’s the exact moment when they discovered it.
The first thing that went through my mind was nothing, it was blank.
My aunt and I were very close and she was just like a mother to me. She worked as a cleaner at a school (de Hendrikschool) and I can remember the times that I helped her clean some classrooms right before the school started. During the vacation everything would become dusty so it had to be cleaned up before classes resumed.
We made a good team, because I was alone most of the time and she lived with my grandmother. Her kids lived abroad, so we both had plenty spare time.
I can also remember that I went to places where she was the only one that was invited, but she insisted that I came along.
She had nothing of her own, did not finish school and most of her life she was pushed away. Despite this, she was a happy person and was not scared to give even when she had less.
I am the living proof of that.
Before she was diagnosed with cancer she found someone she really liked, but he lived abroad, The Netherlands. She was planning to move there and it would be ideal for her. Finally a life with someone and her kids were also in the same country. The plan was perfect, until life happened.
Even that could not stop her. She readjusted the plan. This makes me think of a quote by Victor E Frankl:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
She needed to head to Columbia for surgery and after which she would receive chemotherapy. She decided to go to Columbia and return to Suriname and after that head to The Netherlands to receive chemotherapy. Before she could go to Columbia it was a condition that someone took responsibility for all financial payments in case she did not make it in Columbia. There was also a choice to be buried there or in Suriname. She chose for the first option. My parents had some small debts during that time period and other family members could not take responsibility for some other reasons. My mother asked me to take the responsibility and if something should happen, she would surely back me up.
It’s not easy to sit at the state insurance to only hear about going there and having slim chances of survival.
She went to Columbia and stayed there for 2 months. Everything went according to plan; at least that’s what I thought and heard. In late 2009 she went to the Netherlands for chemotherapy.
We stayed in touch and she also got hold of using social media. We mailed weekly and if needed called each other.
I also asked her to be the bigger one and at least call the ones who were mad at her or she was mad at and tell them sorry and fix the relation. Which she did.
Not everyone accepted that, but I’m happy for the ones who did.
She came back to Suriname mid 2010 for 3 weeks with her better half. She was doing much better, she looked in shape and everyone was taking good care of her.
She wanted to make peace with others who had not spoken to her for whatever reason but they resisted.
When she left Suriname, suddenly her state deteriorated. My mother told me that she was not using her medicines on time, she was in a lot of pain and she suffered a lot. I only heard about that, but witnessed it when I went to the Netherlands in august of 2011.
The pain I saw was not just a normal pain. She could not sleep, because the pain was too intense. I couldn’t even eat my meal; how could I eat when someone is in such pain?
Yet still she said: “eat you’re meal, it’ll get cold. Don’t worry about me, it’s something that happens daily”. Regardless of her state and the pain she was going through, she still wanted me to enjoy my vacation. I could not feel the pain, but only the imagination of the pain was terrible.
Whenever I saw her smile, I thought how can one be happy while being in so much pain. After all these years I know that you can smile, not because you are happy but you are strong to face your problems.
A month after I returned from my vacation, my aunt visited Suriname again with her better half. The suffering never stopped; she was in pain, day in day out. The doctor prescribed morphine and sometimes even that wouldn’t ease her pain. And those were one of the strongest painkillers I knew of.
It was then, when all close family members of my aunt stood by her side. It was a difficult time for everyone and they did everything they could to comfort her.
Even with the most intense pain she was thinking and planning about what she would do after she got better.
After a month spent in Suriname it was time to head back to the Netherlands. She was in a lot of pain and insisted on staying here. We could not keep her here, because her ongoing treatment in the Netherlands would be jeopardized and she wasn’t insured here. On the day of departure we dropped her husband and her off at the airport.
We were almost at home when we received a call from a ground steward. My aunt was left behind, because she was in a lot of pain and they did not want to take any risks. We headed back to the airport to pick her up. It was an exhausting and overwhelming evening.
If she wanted to go back to the Netherlands, she needed someone to guide her. I was asked to do that, but an acquaintance of my mother offered to guide my aunt.
She kept suffering and even contemplated euthanasia, but she didn’t do it. She suffered till the end and on January 14th she asked to hear everyone’s voice so they contacted almost everyone in the family. My aunt could not do anything and could hardly speak. I never spoke to her that last time, because somehow I never got a call. I hesitated, but I knew she could not have forgotten me, because we did not have just a bond. Our bond was from heart to heart. No words were needed.
On January 15th it was her brothers’ birthday and he had a service at his home. Right after everything was done, he received a call that she had passed away. Somewhere I was happy, because it was clear now that the suffering was over and the dark shadow that was casting over her life was gone.
Although she is gone, she’s not forgotten. I like to reread some emails she send me and sometimes I use her picture as background on my phone. It’s there today and it keeps reminding me of how thankful I should be, because there is ALWAYS a reason to be thankful. No matter how dark my days get and how bad I feel, I wake up each day thankful for my life, because there is always someone somewhere that is desperately fighting for theirs.
In loving memory of my aunt.
Things I learned and want to share with you:
- Live, Love, Laugh. 3 words my aunt loved and it’s something we all should keep in mind.
- Bad things do happen to good people
- You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive
- Let someone love you just the way you are, as flawed as you might be, as unattractive as you sometimes feel, and as incomplete as you think you are.
- What you own is NOT who YOU are.
- There is an end to everything, even suffering. So if things are good right now, enjoy it. It won’t last forever.
- What you have today may become what you had by tomorrow. Embrace what you have.
- When people treat you bad or let you down, look at the situation and smile. Not because you’re crazy, but because you learned how NOT to treat others and why should someone’s bitterness change the good in you?
- If you can’t do good or wish good, don’t do bad or wish bad for anyone either.
- A broken body is not a broken soul
- Smile, not because you’re happy but you’re strong enough to face your problems
- There is a blessing in every struggle, open your heart and you won’t miss them.
- Anyone can be a hero, so can you. Don’t believe it? Try giving someone hope in life.
- If you can stick with someone during their good days, don’t leave them hanging in bad days.
How did I cope with this loss?
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
The story is told from my point of view, what I saw and what I personally experienced.