It was 1999 and the boys were 2,3 and 4. Greg and Eric had only been in our family since early September and our lives were full and overwhelming. We had packed up the kids to make the 6 hour drive to Vancouver for an early Christmas visit. The first chance to really show off the boys and let them spend some time with their grandparents and extended family.
The night of November 21st we took the kids, my sister and her husband, and my Nan and went on the Christmas Train. The next day was my Nan's 74th birthday and more than anything she enjoyed family time, and so did we. We took a picture that night, long since lost, but it is frozen in my memory. It was the last night of my childhood. Yes, I was already 25 and a mother of 3 who had been married for 5 years but when I think of pivotal moments in time, that night, posed with my sons in front of the train smiling with my family I thought that life was good. Only good.
The next morning we took the boys to Walmart to get their portrait done. Their first portrait as our sons. Eric looking off at the computer screen making a funny face, Greg looking sad and in shock, Tanner forgetting to smile. They were beautiful, my sons, and yet I could never put that picture on my wall. Our first family portrait. At that moment, at that very moment we were celebrating our new family, MY family, my foundation, my rock, the glue that held us together was shattering. The roads were icy and my aunt, my Nan's baby girl, my second mother, the slightly crazy woman who sneaked peeks at Christmas presents into her 40's, who made every get together a party, who ensured we always felt like a FAMILY, died. Her car slid into the ditch and over turned in water. While I was posing my boys and hoping they would smile for the camera, she died.
I didn't know it yet and we bundled up our kids and took them to a giant play centre to meet more family there. I was paged, and paged again, and paged a third time before I heard it. In this time before cell phones my family was frantic to track me down. There I stood surrounded by hundreds of screaming children, in a world full of play and fun, on a day we were celebrating my grandmother's birthday, our family splintered. "Aunty Carol died"
I left my sons with my husband and raced to be with my Nan. I only remember that she vomited and vomited again. The strongest woman I had ever seen. A woman who had survived so, so much had lost her daughter. On her birthday. God, it seemed, had a very cruel sense of humor. We went to my Aunt's home, our focus now only on her 11 year old daughter. Our precious and amazing blessing, our Ashley.
The years passed, but that moment, that birthday of my Nan's will never be forgotten. It changed us all. The absence of my aunt permeated every family event since. Our kids don't know this as they don't remember those years of when we were complete. My sister and I have tried to fill that gap. To be the glue that holds us all together, but there are cracks, and breaks and we reformed into a new shape that was different and sadder and infinitely lonelier.
Eventually dementia provided the gift of forgetting what her birthday really meant and we were able to simply celebrate her last birthday without all of us remembering that awful, horrid day.
Today my Nan would have been 84. When you look at these pictures maybe you just see a little old lady and my words fail to explain to you the woman she was. The integral part of every childhood memory I hold dear. How strong she was. How beautiful and gentle. How flawed and yet perfect. I miss her at a cellular level I could never explain.
And yet I know you know. So many have shared your own stories of the people in your lives that have made you who you are, that held your hand or read you a story or baked you cookies. Today I honor my aunt and my Nan. I miss you both.
Happy Birthday Nan. Give Aunty a hug for me.