My Aunt’s Dead and I’m Okay


My aunt and I posing together on a film strip

By Julia Nguyen, Staff Writer

Death is something I was never used to. I didn’t know anyone close to me that had to face it. As a child leading into adolescence, I was and still am curious about it. Does it hurt? When does someone know it’s their time? How is one supposed to prepare for a tragedy like this?

I found out my godmother was dying on a Wednesday, just out of the blue. I received a phone call from my mother, while I was babysitting, telling me that my aunt was in critical condition due to a brain stroke, that she could die at any minute, and that we were going to drive to Minnesota to meet her at her deathbed. I was confused and hysterical. I couldn’t wait to be with her and talk to her and just lay in her arms. I sent her a text message asking her why she didn’t tell me about what happened. Moments later, I got a call from her phone. Only when I picked up, it wasn’t her, it was my cousin telling me that she was in a coma, that she won’t be able to talk to anyone, she wouldn’t be able to talk to me.

While we were driving, I thought of our last moments together. She’d always pick me up and we’d have lunch together and I’d tell her everything that was on my mind. From how crazy in love I am with Jason Schwartzman to how scared I was about college. My aunt was the type of person that really cared about others. Not the kind of caring that people use to describe a person in a vague way. I mean that she was the most caring person I knew. She picked family and friends over her health, and that was her ultimate flaw.

The thing that cut to the core of me was how close we were. She didn’t have any children, but I was hers. She took me home to stay with her on my first night on earth and was my longest best friend. We were a famous pair in our family. If she were to go somewhere, I wasn’t too far behind. She used to tell me all the time that when she did something for me, it was because she loved me the most. I remember spending summers with her and having adventures until late. Whether it be going to a Waffle House at 5 am or trying to cook a new dish in the kitchen. When I thought of her, I didn’t expect her to be the first person I knew to pass away because of how alive she always was.

When we arrived at the hospital, I remember seeing her and getting really dizzy. I only got bits of some sentences and phrases because it was too hard for me to listen to all the terrible things the doctors were saying about her condition. I remember them showing us a picture of her brain and telling us that there was a lot of blood that shifted her brain, I remember a lot of people telling me how sorry they were and that they knew how special our relationship was, and worst of all, I remember my family and I talking about making tough decisions even though all of us knew that option was taken away from us and that the choice was already made once we had heard the news.

I blamed and still blame myself for not doing things that would have given me a little more peace of mind. I should have urged her to go to her appointments or to see a doctor when she was feeling even a little under the weather. I should have gotten her to eat healthier and started an exercise routine with her. I should have called her more after I lost touch with her. I can’t believe I let our relationship slip in her last few months.

I know that blaming myself isn’t going to change anything, but it’s not something I can easily let go of either. This pain is something I can/will never forget. How can I? As terrible as this feeling is, it’s my last shared experience I will ever go through with her and as much as it hurts, I have to endure it. However, bearing this pain doesn’t necessarily mean I should just trudge through life aimlessly. She taught me to live, to wake up early and do something spontaneous, and most importantly, she taught me to love unconditionally.

After everything, I’m still moving on. I fell back into the monotonous routine of daily life. Making plans, going back to school, just living without her in general. I would call her cellphone to hear her voice again on her voicemail and leave a message (every other day until her phone line was cut off), telling her how much I miss her, what’s been happening in my life, what she’s missing out on, and asking her how she is.  I try to honor her memory and think of her every day. The songs I listen to, the exciting news I have to share, I still include her in them in my mind.

The best way I can describe our relationship now is with the song “Fall Asleep” by Steel Train. The singer and songwriter, Jack Antonoff, sings about his deceased younger sister, “And when I fall asleep, I want to see you there in a dream // I want to take you to the heart of every place that I’ve been // I’m around you //I know you’re around me // And sure as I wake up // You will always stay fast asleep.” I loved her and will keep her with me every day until we are together again.