When my phone rang at 10pm on Sunday night, I knew exactly why my mom was calling.
“Debbie passed away about 10 minutes ago,” she said on the other line. She sounded exhausted, but surprisingly calm.
“Ok,” I replied, not sure what else to say. “How are you doing?” I worried about my mom. I knew that Debbie’s passing would impact her considerably, since those two rarely went a day without talking.
“I’m hanging in there. Tired,” she said. Our conversation wasn’t long – there were several other family members still to call, and it was getting late. We both said goodbye and hung up. The silence in my dark house was deafening as I processed the news.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Or the night before, for that matter. Her condition had worsened over the past few weeks. We knew this moment was coming, but you can never fully prepare for it.
As I lay on the couch that night, too restless to sleep in my own bed, visions of my aunt’s tired face floated in front of my eyes.
Debbie was actually my great aunt, but I never called her that. I think the “great” implies that she was removed somehow, which wasn’t the case. As long as I can remember, Debbie had been around – birthdays, holidays, family vacations. She was one of those constants, someone you knew would happily be there, no matter how far the drive.
When we dined out as a group, she was known for excusing herself from the table and secretly finding the waitress so she could pay for the entire bill. For my baby shower, she gifted Daphne with one of the biggest gifts on my registry – my jogging stroller.
She was diagnosed with MS several years ago. Even as it progressed and impacted her ability to walk, she still lived life to the fullest. I’ll always remember our 2017 trip to Washington, D.C. – she needed to stop frequently to rest (and we carried a folding lawn chair around with us), but we saw all the monuments and toured George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
When I was about sixteen, we all went to Ocean City together. I rented rollerblades for the boardwalk, only to realize (after the fact) I had completely forgotten how to rollerblade.
She was also with me on my first trip to Niagara Falls, way back when you could travel to Canada without a passport. I remember how it felt seeing the Falls, hearing the roar of the water, and feeling the mist on my face.
I think our loved ones live on in the memories we have. To counteract my sadness this week, I’ve been trying to focus on the happy memories and the many things she taught me.
Life won’t be the same without Debbie, but I’m comforted by the fact that so many lives were better because she was in them.