She can’t remember who called to tell her the news. Although the call wasn’t unexpected, it was the type of news no one is ready for. It was a cold Friday in January, there was probably snow on the ground, but she couldn’t tell you for sure.
A few weeks before, she’d traveled home for Christmas. Her new boyfriend drove down the day after the holiday to meet her family. They had only been dating a few weeks, but they’d both agreed the timing felt right. She wanted him to meet her dying aunt, her mom’s only sister. She was the aunt who never missed a birthday party and passed on her love of baking to her niece.
They went to her aunt’s house and talked while she laid in bed, but the aunt she once knew wasn’t there anymore. When they left, with tears in the corners of her eyes she whispered, “I wish you could have met her before.”
She thinks that was the last time she saw her alive. When she looks back on 28 years of memories she feels guilty she can’t remember the last moment. What did they talk about? What was the last thing she said to her? She assumes it was, “I love you,” but it feels like there should be something poignant she can clutch in her memories—a lingering hug, or her aunt’s words of wisdom to carry with her.
After she received the call, she went through the motions of her workday. She didn’t make plans to leave early—she thought she had enough time. She went home for lunch to pack her bag and put it in her car. Then she sat through her last class of the day, wishing she was with her aunt, instead of in a classroom with 12th graders.
When the school bell rang, she locked her office and left the building. It was dark soon after she was on the interstate. She didn’t hear any new updates from her family and assumed no news was good news.
Three hours later she arrived in her hometown and went to her sister’s house. She thought they would go see their aunt together, for what might be the last time. As she sat on the couch, she thinks she asked, “Do you want to go and see Aunt Dee?”
Her sister said something like: “Haven’t you talked to Mom?” The details are fuzzy, but the confused look on her sister’s face is clear in her memory.
“No, I just got here,” she said. Shortly after, their parents’ headlights crossed the front window. She isn’t sure who said, “She’s gone.” Was it her mom or her sister? She wishes she could remember. When she tries to grasp at the memory, when she tries to make sense of it all, she doesn’t have a face to put to the words.
Her first reaction was anger. Why hadn’t someone told her? As she sat in tears, her dad said, “We knew you were driving and we didn’t want you to be upset while you were on the road. And there was nothing you could do.”
She knew she should have left work earlier. Maybe if she had been able to say her final goodbye she would actually remember the moment. There might be a final word she could cling to, something she could hold in her mind as her memories started to fade.
The boyfriend became her husband, and now they have two kids. Her kids will never meet her beloved aunt, gone too soon at 50 years old. She has albums filled with photos she will show them over the years—but it will never be enough.
She doesn’t talk about how she feels losing her aunt. She didn’t lose a mom, or a sister, a wife, or a grandma. It seems like her loss is less than the others. So she keeps her feelings tucked close to her chest, thinking of her aunt often. She keeps their texts saved, wishing the conversation was still ongoing. That instead of the last text being about a guy she was bringing home to meet the family, she was sending photos of her kids playing in the snow, of them on their birthdays.
She knows there never could have been a perfect “goodbye.” And had she known the last time was going to be the last, it wouldn’t have been any easier.
Most of all, she wishes her aunt was still here. She wishes that January day never happened. But that’s not how the story goes.
Instead, she walks into the kitchen and takes out her recipe book. She reaches for the card with the familiar handwriting, running her fingers over her aunt’s lettering. She might not remember her aunt’s exact last words, but here in her kitchen—she is filled with her aunt’s voice, one scoop of flour at a time.
Deanna Ruth Walker was born May 5, 1962, and died on January 11, 2013. She was a beloved mom, wife, grandma, sister, friend, and, my aunt.