Monday, April 27, 2009


My aunt passed away over the weekend.

It came as quite a shock to everyone to get the news. My older sister called me Friday night, which I missed, and knew something was wrong when the message was a dry "call me as soon as you get this." I got her voicemail on a return call and knew she must've been on the phone with another family member, possibly relaying some bad news. Minutes later she called back and asked if I had talked with my other sister, from whom I received an incoming text stating 'call me asap', and I said 'no'. She delivered the sad news in tears.

I was in shock.

I haven't seen my aunt, who lives in Chicago, in a couple years. She was visiting my parents in Michigan over the Easter weekend when both my sisters had a chance to see her. I am guilt ridden for not going back to see her, to spend time with my family, for not keeping in touch better.

Many people did not know my aunt, and by all appearances, many probably wouldn't have taken the time to get to know her. Pretty harsh words from one of her five nieces, yes? Well, it's true. My aunt was morbidly obese. She is someone you would stop and stare at and hope wouldn't sit next to you on the airplane or metro. I make fun of those people, too. She was never an embarrassment to be around. I knew people stared, but everyone is quick to judge, and I just ignored their eyes. She was my aunt no matter her size, and I still loved her.

Despite her size, my aunt loved to travel. She took numerous trips to Hawaii as well as some cruises. She also loved jewelry. She lived alone and had no one but herself to dote on, so that was her one indulgence.

As was food.

About 20 years ago, she went on Jenny Craig and lost a lot of weight. She put it back on, and then some. In early December 2008, she had gastric bypass surgery.

After talking with my sisters when hearing about our aunts passing, I found out she had lost about 117 lbs. But she wasn't our aunt anymore. She was a shell of herself. She wasn't the jovial aunt we knew with the high pitched laugh. Her skin was grey and she was very sullen looking. Even 4 months after surgery, she still hadn't recovered emotionally. She never went to therapy before or after the surgery to deal with the emotional effects of such a big lifestyle change. Turns out the doctor didn't specialize in gastric bypass surgery, either. She still hadn't returned to work and was having others run errands for her and do her laundry, claiming she was home bound and couldn't move much around the house. At Easter, she did say she was really glad she came up and that she had a good time.

On Friday night, she was on the phone with her sister-in-law who called on a whim, thinking something might be wrong. They talked briefly before my aunt said she felt like she was having another "spell", apparently not feeling well. My aunt, on the other end of the phone, heard her moan a couple times, and then what sounded like something hitting the ground. It took her awhile to find the neighbors number, who check on her once a day, to get them to go check on her. Even if the paramedics got there in a timely manner, they probably wouldn't have been able to save her. She was 60.

No cause of death yet, but it appears to be quick and she didn't suffer. I beg to differ and will go on a mini rant about my disapproval of gastric bypass surgery. The doctor did not specialize in the surgery and provided no follow up, no help, no therapy before surgery or during recovery. She suffered. My grandmother had a hysterectomy over 40 years ago and woke up to an index card next to the bed stating "If you need help, call XX number for assistance". That is not how you treat a patient. She was left to fend for herself, to figure out how to live post-gastric bypass surgery. It was like they also gave her a lobotomy and cut off her emotions. At Easter, she also stated that, if she could go back, she would have never gone through with the surgery. She would've tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri System - something besides surgery to lose the weight. I'm sure there are wonderful doctors out there who have performed this procedure with no complications, but I hope that anyone considering it does their research, not only on the doctor, but on life post-surgery. Get therapy before and after to make sure you are making the right decision.

This posting is what I have to remember my aunt. There's also a house full of memories back in Chicago that she and my mom and their brothers and sisters grew up in. We went there every Christmas until high school when sports dictated our time, and the trips became more infrequent. I hope to go back this summer to help clean out the house and maybe collect a few pieces to help keep her memory fresh. I can't bring home the piano in the front room, the bay window that was filled with a tree every Christmas, the French doors, the China hutch in the dining room, or the cuckoo clock in the basement. The 'boiler room' always scared me and I busted my glasses on a pole in the basement. Parents weren't happy about that. The basement floor was linoleum, so us kids would find an old office chair and push each other down the length of the basement, grab a hold of one of the poles as we got closer, and whip around.

Good times. They will be missed, as will my aunt.


At 3:22 PM, Blogger Katie said...

Jen, I'm so sorry to hear about your aunt. It's always a blow to lose someone you love and it's especially hard when you feel like you never got a chance to say goodbye. A similar thing happened with my grandfather and I. All other three grandparents are still living (I'm blessed big time) and it was my first real loss. Because of traveling and working, I wasn't able to get to see that set of grandparents over that Thanksgiving, which turned into his last. I had said I would see him at Christmas. He never made it to Christmas. He died a few days before. The regret was heavy, but eventually it eased. I hope that over time you will feel better. I understand well what you are going through though.


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