Our family faced a sudden loss – for T, his first experience with losing someone – over the holidays.
My sister passed away last Thursday, a few days after being admitted to the hospital on Christmas Day, after a short and brave battle with cancer.
My family and I are still processing and making sense of this sudden loss. No matter how prepared we were, knowing we were on borrowed time, it still feels so sad and shocking.
T was her favourite person. Being his Auntie – a doting one! – was one of her most treasured roles.
She lived with us last Fall. I didn’t blog about it, as she loves to follow along T’s adventures and I wanted this space to be an escape from it all.
The last few months were so hard, stressful and exhausting. While we were happy to support her, it was beyond what the hubby and I were capable of. It disrupted T’s routine and affected our home life, sleep, mood quite seriously.
But I am glad we did it, because it provided her with comfort that she was not facing this awful illness alone.
In the earlier part of her stay, T and her enjoyed watching movies together in the family room and she would offer to help cook meals for him.
It is sobering and sad to now look back and realize just how quickly she deteriorated.
T displayed so much empathy, care and maturity during her stay – often going to her doorstep to tell her “I love you” or “I hope you feel better.”
But T, being T, also spoke his mind.
The funnier moments were when he’d go into her room and call her “Baldie” after the hubby shaved her head before she started chemotherapy.
The more serious moments were when T complained to her directly she was keeping him up at night because of her nonstop trips to the bathroom and her constant coughing.
The hubby and I would try to explain to T that while it was annoying and disruptive, she was not doing it on purpose and that she was only doing so because she was very sick.
About two years ago, T randomly asked me about death.
Before we invited my sister to move in at the end of September, the hubby and I decided we were going to be open and honest with T every step of the way, as it helps normalize things.
We let T know she was moving in because she was sick. We let him know that while we were hopeful for a miracle, she was also likely to pass away in the near future.
Watching T process things the last few months has been interesting, heartbreaking and ultimately something that makes us beam with pride.
I remember his school EA telling us T told her quite sadly, in October, that he didn’t understand why his Auntie was not getting better after he ran so hard for her at the Terry Fox Run.
T also went from having 1-2 night terrors a year to 1-2 night terrors a week when she moved in with us – a tell-tale sign of him coping with this huge sudden disruption.
We told T about her death after he came home from daycare. We were going to wait until two days later that weekend but he asked about visiting her and so we didn’t feel like we could wait.
He took the news well, although the next day, Friday, daycare staff said he cried.
In T’s mind, his Auntie is now an Angel sitting on a cloud with a gold ring over her head and has wings. And at nighttime, she is a star in the sky.
Honestly, I could not feel more grateful for how he is processing this.
We told T there is no right or wrong way to feel and to feel, think and say what he needs to – and that we are here for him at any time.
The hubby and I let T participate in some of the funeral planning. During a visit to the funeral home, we showed T the room where her service was going to be held and walked him in detail through the 4-hour visitation/service, so he knew what to expect the day of.
We told T what to expect his Auntie to look like when he saw her again in the casket in a few days – and explained that she would be cremated and what that meant.
We visited the cemetery and showed T where she was going to be buried.
The visitation and funeral service took place this Wednesday.
The hubby, T and I got there an hour before guests arrived to set everything up and to give T one-on-one quiet time with her.
While the hubby and I were reviewing the registration table setup, T quietly snuck up to her casket and shouted, “Boo!”
It startled us and we asked him what the heck he was doing.
T said matter of factly, “I just wanted to see if she was alive!”
God bless this child. Because the hubby and I burst out laughing. We really needed that laugh.
Then we told T he had better not do that when the guests arrived.
The four-hour visitation – with the funeral service held in the middle – feels like a blur to me now.
It was so nice to see many of her friends and our family come out to celebrate her life. I know she would’ve appreciated it.
And she would’ve been so proud of T.
He gave my Ma a hug when she arrived and hovered around her a few times to make sure she was ok.
He said he wanted to sit next to her during the service, because she was going to be sad, but he ended up sitting with my cousin’s similarly-aged children.
He sat through the 30-minute service, attended by about 75 guests, calmly and quietly.
My cousin told me that at one point, T put his hand on her daughter’s back to comfort her when she started to cry.
T’s doting Auntie surely would’ve been proud.