Dear Aunt Flo,
Today would have been your 51st birthday. Not that you looked 51 -- you looked at least a decade younger. You share this birthday with Hunter S. Thompson and Margaret Laurence; you'd have liked that, with your ecclectic book collection that's now ensconced in our house. You also share it with Kristen Bell. My Veronica Mars loving heart likes that fact. You'd have loved that show, too.
I had planned to write a big, stirring tribute to you so that I could post it today, but I got derailed due to the stress over the past week or so. Maybe that's a good thing. I can write this letter more honestly and do a tribute later.
Last year, on your 50th, we were in Atlanta visiting friends. I felt a wee bit bad missing it, but I felt guiltier for NOT feeling worse. You didn't know it was your birthday, and that just made it harder. You'd always planned to do something amazing for your 50th (like go to Africa) and it was so difficult to see you unable to live out your dream.
Having a loved one with severe cognitive impairment is so strange. You're never sure how much the loved one is understanding, what they are thinking, how much they're suffering or what they're really enjoying. I always wondered how Dave's Mom handled her father's decline from Alzheimer's, but through your illness I realized that the only thing to worry about is your loved one's comfort and happiness. And you hold off thinking about 'what might have been' because it hurts too much.
It's not fair that you were struck down at 47. You'd done everything right in terms of a healthy lifestyle and it didn't matter a whit. The last three years, with you in palliative care, were a challenge. I saw glimmers of the old you, and that made me miss you all the more.
Oddly - this birthday is almost easier. I miss you so much; not a day goes by when I don't think about you, your love and your generosity. But this year, I don't feel guilty mourning your loss. While you were still sick, it felt disloyal to think about how I missed you; you were still there. Now, I can openly delight in the memories I have of you, your first 47 years and some moments of wonder during the difficult final 3.
Happy birthday, Aunt Flo. Though I am not giving you a personalized "Precious Moments Figurine" or dressing up like a clown to deliver balloons (what? I was a kid!), I'd like to think you'd like this letter, this candour, even more.