A memory. We all have them, some great, some tragic. We reserve our fondest memories for our loved ones.
When my grandparents passed away, the role of matriarch in our extended family passed from my grandmother to my aunt Toni.
My father’s sister, she played a special part in my life, as well as each member of my extended family.
When my parents divorced, Toni would drive down from Connecticut to visit me wherever we were living in NY. I’m not sure if my father ever knew she visited. It was generally during the day, after school, but before my father returned home from work. The visits were always pleasant, reassuring. Not overly maternal, but very comforting. I think she always felt there was something missing, without a maternal influence. So, she quietly went about providing one when I needed it.
I remember Easter Egg hunts in her backyard. I remember post-it notes on bedroom doors at Christmas, so everyone knew their assigned room for sleeping (no co-ed bedrooms!). Christmas decorations to rival the most detailed. A commitment to family, religion. I also remember getting yelled at for sneaking downstairs at the crack of dawn on Christmas with my cousin to activate the sirens on all the Hess model trucks we had received as gifts.
Toni successfully battled pancreatic cancer, but couldn’t beat an aggressive brain tumor. The family spent two weeks at her side in the hospital. We shared hundreds of memories, alternating between laughing and crying. It may surprise an outsider that there was more laughing than crying. But, that’s our family. Blessedly dysfunctional, but finding a slice of humor in a devastating loss.
Cancer is a horrible thing. It’s ripped apart the lives of people close to me, and taken away people much too early. Her husband, my uncle Joe, is a funny, loving, caring man. He adored Toni, probably more than anything else in the world.
This was supposed to be their time. Nearing retirement, they had begun traveling. They enjoyed time with their grandchildren, and time with each other.
The family will rally around Joe. We always have. But, we’re missing our emotional leader. Our den mother. A woman I would have been proud to call my mom.
She made all of us better, in her own special way. A birthday card, a special gift, a well-placed phone call to check in.
An extended family that was devoted to her, and is now devoted to her memory, goes about the process of adapting to life without her.
Family. That’s probably the thing I’ll most remember Toni for. She always made an effort to make sure each of us knew we were a part of her family. God forbid you ignored her, she’d drag you kicking and screaming back into the fold.
It’s something I’ll always be thankful for. I would not have the relationships with my family that exist today without her.
We’ll be making a donation in her honor to Livestrong to further the fight against cancer. We hope you’ll consider the same. Cancer has taken too many people that don’t deserve to go.
We’ll shed some more tears tomorrow, and say our final goodbyes. Mine will include a profound thanks, and an empty spot that won’t soon be filled.