Saturday my aunt flew back to New York after spending a week in Ohio. Despite the fact that the flight was only about an hour long, I am certain that it had to be the hardest flight she’s ever taken in her many years on this earth. She had just finished saying her final goodbye to her only daughter after leaving her on her deathbed.
My aunt’s daughter (my cousin) is in the final stages of cancer. We received a phone call a little over a week ago saying she had hours to live. My aunt, who lives in New York, flied out to Ohio to be with her the next morning. Ever since then the whole family has been on alert waiting for any type of news to come.
I called up my father last week to ask him if there had been any progress with my cousin. The news had been the same all week. She is weak, mostly incoherent, and in pain for most of the time. By Wednesday it had been determined that she would be refusing any further treatment. The only thing the doctors would be giving her from that point on was a morphine drip. This is where things really went wrong.
A few of my cousin’s close friends showed up last week to the hospital. It was then that we learned of my cousin’s final wishes. She did not want a funeral. She had already made arrangements for her body to be cremated and spread over some mountain in Tibet. She did not want any type of memorial service. To make matters worse, my cousin also made it clear that she wanted to be alone when she passed. No friends, no family, no nothing.
She wanted to die alone.
My cousin has always had mental health issues. She has a history of exaggerating things and being a bit delusional. Her relationship with her mother has always been strained. Yet somehow, underneath it all, we all knew they were still close. It was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve always admired my aunt for how she dealt with her. She always tried her best to preserve the relationship.
This is exactly why my cousin’s wishes to be alone at the end surprised us so. We thought if anything would make her petty stubbornness disappear it would be her impending death. The only person she consistently recognized last week was her mother. In her weaker moments it was obvious that she wanted her mother to take care of her. That she wished mom could make it all better. In the end though, it was the petty stubbornness that won out. It was clear what her wishes were and my aunt felt compelled to respect them, no matter how much it hurt her to do so.
It’s an incredibly sad thing to die alone. To have no one to hold your hand when you get scared. No one to stroke your head when you are in pain. No one to watch over you. But to wish to die alone. To be so filled with bitterness that you push away the ones who love you, and the ones you still love, even in your darkest hour. This is an even sadder thing to me.
My heart aches for my cousin, and even more for my aunt.